Through a review of the literature on the subtle senses – specifically the intersection between intuition and the behavioral sciences – and dance, this paper explores the logical connection between the intuition and dance. The author further explores, through a phenomenological approach, the nature and use of insight and how they inform movement and create dance, as well as how dance in turn may inform the self through the channel of intuition.
Keywords: intuition, movement, dance, intuitive dance
The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential healing benefits of dance and movement through the experience of intuition. While dance has been used therapeutically for decades by professional dance therapists, and dancers have throughout recorded history tacitly acknowledged using intuition in their dancing, there has been very little scholarly attention given to a direct connection between intuition and therapeutic dance.
Many artists acknowledge unconscious, intuitive and spiritual processes in their creative work. Also, intuition is often mentioned in the literature on the arts, health, education and management. However, the subject of intuition has not been established as a clearly delineated line of inquiry (Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox & Sadler-Smith, 2008). This disconnect between literature and practice is problematic for those seeking to further explore intuitive processes and emotional integration through dance, or those who wish to use their intuitive abilities and dance to help others.
This issue extends to dancers and dance therapists who often acknowledge intuition as part of their experience. Because there is so little research on the nature and role of how intuition may inform movement, it appears that intuition is being used therapeutically without scientific evidence to support it. Explicit exploration is needed to help begin to ground the professional practice of movement and dance in evidence-based research.
Definition of Terms
Merriam Webster defines movement as “a physical motion between points in space” (Movement, 2017), and dance as “a sequence of rhythmic steps or movements usually performed to music, for pleasure or as a form of social interaction” (Dance, 2017). Intuitive Dance is “an extension of interpretive dance, is experienced primarily through the subtle senses and holds the potential for self-healing for the dancer” (Hood, 2017).
Intuition and Insight
Although intuition is colloquially discussed and generally acknowledged as an important aspect of being human, historically there has been very little research on intuition, especially as it applies to the psychological sciences. As a group, psychologists have been “reluctant to acknowledge intuition as a viable construct, often consigning it to the ‘fringes’ of the field of psychology, within the realm of parapsychology, telepathy and premonition (see e.g. Claxton, 2000; Klein, 2003) and to esoteric and ‘New Age thinking” (Boucouvalas, 1997).
However, as noted by one prominent researcher on intuition, over the past two decades, “The number of experimental studies of phenomena described as ‘intuition’ has increased.” (Osbeck, 1999, p. 232). Given that Osbeck’s statement was made nearly two decades ago, there is currently four decades of research on intuition. In addition, both lay and academic interest in the intuitive processes seems to be growing across divergent domains with books like Blink (Gladwell, 2005), The Upside of Irrationality (Ariely, 2010), The Invisible Gorilla (Chabris & Simons, 2010), and Gut Feelings (Gigerenzer, 2007).
It is important to separate the term intuition from other constructs that have historically overlapped in the research literature. The term intuition was used to describe a process, the product of which was called an intuitive judgment (Dane & Pratt, 2007). It was further described as an impulse to act, a sense of knowing, or a judgment that was not the product of a rational, conscious thought process. Insight was defined as a new and conscious thought that appeared suddenly, especially when conscious attendance to creating the insight had been absent (Dane & Pratt, 2007; Hodgkinson et al.). Insight was commonly referred to as an ah-ha or light bulb moment because of its sudden appearance from seemingly nowhere (Dane & Pratt, 2007).
Another perspective came from Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith (2008), who published a review of the literature across several domains within the behavioral sciences. In their book, Intuition, A Fundamental Bridging Construct in the Behavioral Sciences, they adopted a definition provided by Dane and Pratt (2007). Intuition is a “non-conscious process involving holistic associations that are produced rapidly which result in affectively charged judgments” (Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, & Sadler-Smith, 2008, p. 36). In addition, several authors they reviewed described intuition as part of a dual-process system of cognition and specified it as automatic, non-rational, unconscious, affect-laden, experiential, associative, holistic system of processing.
Osbeck (1999) conceptualized intuition by dividing it into three attributes: (a) an unconscious process, (b) an inferential process akin to conscious processes, and, (c) irrational rather than rational. Osbeck also placed these attributes within the context of two distinct but parallel systems of processing which supported the findings of Hodgkinson, Langan-Fox, and Sadler-Smith. Based on Osbeck, and the many authors that were reviewed, a consensual dual-process conception is a “highly plausible framework for understanding the dynamics of intuitive and analytic processing” (Hodgkinson et al., p. 12).
Movement is not dance (Movement, 2017). Movement is simply moving from one point in space to another. While it can be deduced from this that dance is movement, based on this definition, movement is not necessarily dance. What then makes movement dance? What makes movement into dance is the human part of a human being. It is not music, not professional dance training nor even the intention to dance. What makes movements become a dance is the life infused into it by the dancing human. As John Blacking (1977) put it in his book, The Anthropology of the Body, “All that is known about the minds of non-human animals is derived from observation of their movements, gestures and non-verbal communication: much can be learnt about the human animal when it is studied in the same way” (p. 16). While every human being experiences movement, understanding their intuitive process necessitates focusing on intentional movements – and the experiences of those choosing to move and dance.
Artists and philosophers have, throughout history and across multiple domains, acknowledged unconscious, intuitive and spiritual processes in creative work. Some have even said that their art was not a product of their own but that of God. Friedrich Nietzsche said, “I could believe only in a God who would know how to dance.” (Nietzsche, 1896. p. 49). Martha Graham, who was known as the grandmother of modern dance, once stated, “Dancers are the messengers of the gods” (Graham, 1953).
Carlos Santana, one of the most famous guitarists of all time, not only alluded to being connected with intuition but described going into his guitar or going into a note. “I’m curious about how to penetrate inside the note” (Santana, 2017, para. 10). When asked in an interview, “You talk a lot about trances. Do you go there when you hit one of those long notes?” he responded, “You have to give yourself chills before anyone else gets them. I become less of a ringmaster. I forget to correct anyone onstage. I just go into my guitar. I can see the rest of the musicians going, ‘Yep, he’s hungry, and he’s helping himself'” (Santana, 2017, para. 12).
An overview of the literature revealed that there was no scholarly definition of intuitive dance. Indeed, the definition that most closely approximates the exploration of dance through the subtle senses is the definition of interpretive dance provided by Merriam-Webster. Interpretive dance is “a form of modern dance in which the dancer’s movements depict an emotion or tell a story. A style of theatrical dancing that is not as restricted as classical ballet; movements are expressive of feelings” (Interprative dance, 2017). Another helpful view comes from Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1966/2015), whose seminal 1966 book, The Phenomenology of Dance, elegantly described the way in which people intuitively experience dance.
When a dance is there for us, we intuitively know that it is there; something alive and vibrant is happening on the stage, and as we are totally engaged in our experience of that happening, we too are alive and vibrant: we have a lived experience. Judgements, beliefs, interpretations are suspended: our experience of the dance is free from any manner of reflection. (p.1)
Throughout the research for this paper, I have undertaken a phenomenological approach to integrate the scholarly and anecdotal literature with my own experience as a dancer. Despite not having had any formal dance training until the age of 23, I choreographed and performed from the age of nine and was a professional touring dancer by the age of 19. This lack of formal training was often a disadvantage for me as a professional dancer and choreographer because I did not always speak the same dance language as other professionals. However, the experience of growing from childhood to adulthood and experiencing dance without the imposition of others became an advantage as a researcher. The following describes a narrative between and with myself and another person, capturing this untrained experiential phenomenon of dance.
“Do you always dance with your eyes closed?”
I open my eyes and become aware of a slight jarring of my senses. I respond with something like, “Um…yeah. I guess.” Feeling a little annoyed and imposed upon, I take a deep breath and let it out in an attempt to release my negative feelings. I open my eyes completely and reorient myself to the room. The lights are low – almost off – because I don’t need them when I dance. I only need them to navigate my way to and from the room.
“Do you always dance with the lights off?”
Again, I feel annoyed and as if he is asking me to share something sacred. As I listen to my thoughts and feel my bodily and emotional reactions, I also become aware that I am feeling superior, as if my ego is in charge.
“Why the silly questions?”
I think this to myself, but I want to say it out loud. However, when I look at his face, I see a child-like look of something that approaches wonder. He smiles and says, “Aren’t you afraid you are going to bump into something or fall?”
The above interaction initiated a profound shift in self-perception. In the matter of a few minutes, I had gone from a lifetime of feeling as if I was at a disadvantage as a dancer because I lacked professional training to the realization that instead, my lack of training was a gift. Because I had learned to dance by listening to myself and my impulses to move, rather than someone else telling me how to move my body, I had honed my intuition. I was and am simply a human being who dances. The fact that I am a researcher and scholar only compliments my experience and, hopefully, allows me to understand and communicate my experience to others more effectively.
I have always danced alone for the pure joy of the experience of moving my body, the only exceptions being when I was pregnant or with my children and when they were young. When my babies were too young to walk, I danced with them in my arms. When they were older, they danced with me or sometimes watched me dance. They never asked me why I closed my eyes when I danced.
Given the conceptual model adopted for this paper, which describes intuition as part of a dual-process system of cognition that is an automatic, non-rational, unconscious, affect-laden, experiential, associative, holistic system of processing, I have come to realize that perhaps I have been dancing through intuition my entire life. In reflecting further on my history with dance, I also realized that I have danced intuitively for self-healing. I recalled times when I danced my anger or sadness, for hopes and dreams. I have danced joy and love and gratitude. I have danced myself and I have danced my life.
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