Written byChris Smith
The popularity of some of the world’s most famous dance choreographies could be due to the moments when performers are motionless, according to a new study from Goldsmiths, University of London.
The project, led by Goldsmiths Lecturer in Psychology and professional dancer Dr Guido Orgs, found that spectators who enjoyed watching live dance performances were most stimulated during collective pauses and moments of stillness on stage.
The results are one of the key findings of a unique 18-month research project, funded by an ESRC Transformative Research grant and published in the Public Library of Science One Journal on Tuesday 25 July.
The project brought together cognitive neuroscientists, social psychologists and dance artists to combine artistic practice with experimental psychology.
Working in collaboration with choreographer Matthias Sperling, ten professional performers and Siobhan Davies Dance artists, the investigators studied the evolutionary functions of dance and synchronised movement.
Ten dancers performed a set of choreographic tasks featuring varying amounts of synchronised moves including walking, running and falling, and collective pauses in front of four separate audiences of approximately 100 people in total.
The investigators continuously tracked performers’ movements and spectators’ responses via smart watches. Measures of enjoyment, surprise and excitement were taken from spectators’ heart rates and ratings using tablet computers.
Those spectators who enjoyed the performance the most were highly sensitive to moments in the choreography where all performers stopped moving at the same time.
Dr Orgs said: “This study shows that not moving at all – one of the hardest things to do as a group – is a very powerful tool in dance choreography and often enthrals an audience more than a lot of jumping around. Some of the most famous and popular choreographies of all time include these techniques, such as John Travolta’s iconic pose in Saturday Night Fever, the chorus routine in YMCA and many of Michael Jackson’s unique performances.
“The popularity of flash-mobs on social media also shows the appeal of synchronised movement and collective pausing, both for those who do the synchronising and those who simply watch.
“The fact that aesthetic judgments were coupled in time with the performers’ movements illustrates that the experience of dance – and perhaps all performing arts – is highly dynamic and involves direct communication between performers and spectators.”