#Dance Illusioning the Cyborg

Technology changes movement

For my MA research at the School of Interactive Arts and Technology at Simon Fraser University in Canada, I focused on the relationships between movement techniques, technology, and perceptual cognition in three underground urban dance styles: liquid, digitz (or digits), and finger tutting. I illustrate how technology has influenced creative, embodied practices in urban dance styles. I analyze how technological metaphors underlie conceptual representations of the body, space, and movement in three related styles of urban dance: liquid, digitz, and finger tutting. Following an exploratory netnography of movement practitioners, I claim that unlike most dancers of traditional genres or other urban dance styles, dancers of these three styles frequently employ representations of the body and of space that are geometrical, mathematical, mechanical, or digital. In essence, I argue that the movement styles create the “illusion” that the dancers’ bodies have a technological quality to it.

Here’s a few clips to show what I mean. Each one is a playlist; if you play a video to the end, another one should play right after. (If you have any suggestions of clips I should add here, or think I should move a clip, please let me know!)

Liquid (see the playlist) Digitz(see the playlist) Finger tutting (see the playlist) Finger Connect (see the playlist)

And then there’s finger connect. Even though I don’t talk about connect explicitly in my thesis, I’m kind of in love with this style.

To explain how dancers effectively express these metaphors, I extend theories of visual perception and spatial cognition in order to apply dance performance reception theory to a model called Temporary Gestural Simplification. I look at how theories that describe how we visually perceive objects in space can be used to explain why these styles are so compelling to watch. My analysis of performance techniques of these styles suggests that during performance, dancers leverage Temporary Gestural Simplification to represent two types of ‘illusions’ to viewers: a) the dancer’s body has a reconfigurable structure; and b) the dancer is immersed in a virtual environment that contains invisible, mutable objects and structures that are revealed only through the dancer’s movement.

I conclude by arguing that these dance styles exemplify a trend in popular dance in which body, space, and time are understood in the language of technology. I also elaborate on the idea (that at least one of the dancers from this community has put forth) that these dancers have movement expertise that could be useful for the design and evaluation of new interaction technologies.

Historical accounts
To support this argument, I look at the historical connections that these styles have with technological aesthetics . For instance, I show evidence that some of these dancers have used technological themes to define their bodies and their movement philosophies. The result is that a viewer might watch performances of these styles with the impression that the dancing body is “cyborgian” because it can appear to be simultaneously organic and technological. It can also seem that the space where the dancers are performing contains virtual objects and structures that are revealed only through the dancers’ movement.

Contemporary, dancerly interpretations of technology

It’s interesting to see what happens when dancers are asked to embody technology using dance. The “robot arm” is one of the most iconic, dance-based interpretation of technology: robot arms are often portrayed as stiff, angular, and limited in expression and articulation. I think that genres of dance such as (but not limited to) liquid, digitz, and finger tutting represent a new way of interpreting the theme of technology. The difference between original robot dance styles to these newer, underground illusion dance styles recalls the difference between the physical aesthetics of computer technologies of the past—boxy, unwieldy, bulky, with well-defined edges and sharp corners—to computer technologies of the present—sleek, fluid, with smooth curves and rounded corners.

The cyborg dance body

We often think of cyborgs as humans that are technologically augmented in some way. Often, the technology takes the form of something tangible, such as a pacemaker. But technology isn’t always a physical thing; a technology can be a way of doing something (a process, an algorithm, a recipe, a formula) or a way of organizing the natural world (such as subdividing space and time into discrete chunks, like grids or temporal constructs such as hours, minutes, and seconds). Also, technological augmentation could be seen as something that doesn’t just affect our physical, kinesiological structure (again, think of the pacemaker) but our “natural” ways of interacting with the natural world, such as human movement. So when we take technological constructs and incorporate them into our bodies, we could think of this a kind of cyborgean process. Finger styles such as finger tutting and finger connect takes the notion of grids as well as mechanical structures such as levers and gears as metaphors for structuring dance movement. Technological metaphors alter habitual, organic ways of moving; couldn’t this be seen as a kind of a cyborgean phenomenon?

It’s pretty important to remember that not only do dancers move between styles, but that the boundaries between styles aren’t super hard and fast in the first place. Some might feel that there are videos here that should be filed under a different playlist than the one I’ve put them in. Also, it’s hard to choose which ones to include because there are so many great videos out there.

Related publications:

Comments are closed.