Lose Yourself to Dance, literally.

Illustration by Gustav Steenkamp

There are many ways to entertain ourselves as spectators. We can watch sports, observe the animals at the zoo, experience the opera, or simply go down the Netflix rabbit hole. Personally, I am partial to another type of entertainment – the dance performance.

Observing a dancer is an opportunity to notice emotions and thoughts dance with each other in real time, intertwining around the curves and lines of the dancer’s physicality. But why is non-verbal physical performance so powerful in the first place? The phenomenon of kinesthetic empathy is one part of the explanation.

Kinesthetic empathy deals with “the ability to experience empathy merely by observing the movements of another human being” (Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices). To put it simply, when observing a performance, the spectator’s body will activate certain neurons that are also activated in the dancer performing the movement. The activation of these so-called mirror neurons creates a similarly visceral experience for both the dancer and the observer, thus giving us the opportunity to experience the physical thrill of movement from our seats. An activity both intellectual and visceral, it brings us closer to the virtuosic expression and emotional artistry of the performer. And once as spectators we can begin thinking of a dance performance as an augmented reality of our own sensations, we can then begin to understand the inner life of the dancer’s mind more closely.

Read the full piece at lowercase magazine.

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