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On feeling the dance : motor response and its place in dance appreciation Heckman, Ian


When we watch others dance, it has been claimed that we do not just use vision and hearing to appreciate dance, but that we also use motor responses. This has been a staple of thinking about dance and its appreciation since the early 20th century, but it has not drawn much attention in philosophy until recently. Recent advances in the sciences of the mind point to the existence of mirror system in the human brain, such that it seems when we watch movement, we are mirroring performing that movement in our brains. Barbara Montero proposed that this mirroring system could underlie motor response and allow us to appreciate dance. A resulting debate occurred between those skeptical of motor response in dance appreciation and those who were optimistic. I argue for a somewhat extreme version of optimism: that motor response is necessary for a full appreciation of most dances. I begin by examining and arguing against skeptical challenges to the place of motor response in dance appreciation. I then turn to the dance studies literature as my guide for how to go about understanding dance and motor response more fully. What is needed, I ask, for an account of motor response that does justice to the ways in which the danceworld understands it? Using insights gained from this delve into dance studies, I then turn to the existing accounts of motor response and find them wanting. I propose that existing automatic accounts of motor response need to be supplemented with an understanding of motor response as an activity. After defeating motor response skepticism and amending existing accounts of motor response, I set my eyes on answering how motor response is involved in dance appreciation. I argue that it is necessary for the appreciation of gracefulness, an aesthetic property that has been strongly associated with dance for most of its history. I further go on to argue that motor response could also be used to explain how dance can express emotion.

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