Universiteit Leiden

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PhD project

Dance and Play: A Comparison between Children’s Physical Play Events and Dance Improvisational Practice

Can children’s physical play events be considered as improvisational dance? And if so, what are the shared underlying structures and characteristics?

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Carolien Hermans

Summary

In this artistic research I aim to explore the differences and similarities between children’s physical play events and improvisational dance. The kinesics communication of children with their peers seems to resonate well with dance improvisation. Research of Manso, Ferreira and Vaz (2017) for example point to analogies between children’s play and improvisational dance in terms of creative activities, relational dialogues and embodied meanings.

In this research I will explore and examine the relationship between dance improvisation and the aesthetics of play. Dance improvisation is often associated with the spontaneous,with  the unknown (Foster, 2003) and with creativity (Nakano & Okada, n.d.). Even more, dance improvisation is seen as a special form of social interaction (Blom and Chaplin,1988), as the embodied interaction of bodies on an affective, cognitive and physical level (Ribeiro & Fonseca, 2011). Blom and Chaplin (1988) consider dance improvisation as the “dynamic daughter of dance, at times self-indulgent, at times concise and determinant, but always developing and changing. She has a free spirit: she should be given free rein within wisely and flexibly set boundaries” (p.x).

Play on the other side is defined as a “free activity standing quite consciously outside ‘ordinary’ life as being ‘not serious,’ but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner" (Huizinga, 1955, p.13). Fagen (1981) adds to this that play is not serving an immediately useful action. Burghardt (2011) states that play differs from functional expression of behavior since it is often incomplete, exaggerative and it involves patterns of movements/behaviors that are modified in form and sequence.

In my own artistic work I have noticed that children’s play seems to share important principles with dance improvisational practice. To mention some: energy level and intensity, risk-taking, the spontaneous, the relational, the moving point of contact between the participants and the way sense-making occurs.

In this research study I aim to explore and describe possible overlaps between children’s physical play and dance improvisational practice.  Out of the above, the following research question can be formulated:  Can children’s physical play events be considered as improvisational dance? And if so, what are the shared underlying structures and characteristics?

Artistic research, is used as the main research method i.e. research that is rooted in the creative/artistic process. The study unfolds in and through the artistic creative process. As a result, the research will produce a body of material that is both artistic and academic. First of all, the body of material will consist of a series of photographs and video’s that register and record the essence of children’s play activities and dance improvisational practice. Second of all, the body of material will consist of a written dissemination. This research study is descriptive and exploratory by nature. The primarily aim is to understand and compare the underlying mechanisms of children’s physical play events and dance improvisation.

 

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