The function of sight for the movement

Ongoing research for dance pedagogy, choreography. February-September 2021.

The aim of this research is to develop and disseminate pedagogical and artistic approaches that integrate a deeper understanding of the links between vision and movement. It is being carried out in three phases: inventory and study of scientific knowledge (February-April), carrying out and documenting interdisciplinary interviews and exchanges (April-August), public presentation and communication of the results (August-September).

Approach :

Daily movements
In everyday life, my body and my movement are directed towards objects and goals that are external to them: it is the fork I pick up to eat, the direction I point with my finger, or the simple fact of moving from one space to another. My gaze always precedes the realisation of my movements(1a) , and has a dominant place in my perceptual field compared to my other senses (it is, for example, the most important contributor to maintaining my balance (2)). By focusing on the objects on which I want to act, my gaze serves to gather information about my environment, and it is thanks to this information that I define the objectives of my actions and the way in which I will carry them out.

Dancing movement
Under the guidance of the gaze, the movements of everyday life are thus functional movements: they are a means to an end that is distinct from them. In dance, the dancer is not in relation to external objects. The danced movements do not have an exogenous teleology: their goal, on the contrary, is their own achievement. The dancer then becomes himself what he is aware of and the goal of his movement. He is both the means and the end of the action he undertakes.

Gaze in the danced movement
In this situation, the informative function of the gaze loses its necessity and loses its dominant place in the hierarchy of my senses. I become more aware of my proprioceptive sensations, and these become a more important reference point in the perception of my movements and for their realisation. In this situation the gaze tends to become a somewhat foreign and almost superfluous tool for the dancer, a tool attached to the body, which he sometimes does not know what to do with.

Sight and body perception
And yet sight is a fundamental component of our body perception and motor skills. Associated with our proprioception, the visual perception of our body participates in the elaboration of our body schema: it is because I see my hand move and simultaneously feel it move, that I learn to control it. This visual control of our body is essential for the precision of our movements (1b).

My body and the space
Furthermore, this visual and proprioceptive perception of my body serves as the basis for my perception of space. My body is the perceptual touchstone of my perception of my environment: it is because I experience the spatial and temporal continuity of my body that I can perceive the spatial and temporal continuity of my environment. And conversely, my perception – tactile and visual – of space and that of the objects in my environment, participate in the elaboration of my bodily perception: it is because I distinguish, visually and tactilely, my body from the objects and spaces in my environment, that I become aware of its limits, characteristics and spatial and temporal continuity.

According to the principle of perception-action coupling, our motor skills and our perception have genetically evolved with each other in a close functional intertwining. Our movements would thus be coded at the neural level in terms of perceptible effects on our environment (3). The existence of mirror neurons also supports this idea of an intertwining of perceptual and motor neurological processes. Finally, other studies based on the theories of embodied cognition tend to show that our perception, our emotions and our cognitive operations are influenced or even formed, by the movements we make or simply by the position of our body.

Thinking in/through the space
Beyond the intimate links between my bodily perception and my perception of space, it is important to note that the latter is not a neutral ability. The perception of the three-dimensionality of space and the location and identification of objects and their relationships do not consist solely of purely logical neural operations of processing visual (and tactile) percepts. Our spatial perception intrinsically includes the attribution of meanings to objects and spaces(4). My brain does not perceive space and objects simply as a sheet of paper would be printed with an image. It continuously constructs my environment through cognitive processes of recalling, evaluating and arranging semantic content in relation to somatic states (i.e. in relation to emotional states).

The deep biological and psychic intertwining of sight and movement and the intrinsically semantic and emotional nature of the space we perceive force us to rethink our conception of dance by including our gaze and visual perceptions in the very design of the danced movements.

How does the danced movement affect my gaze and my perception of space? How can modulations of attention to my gaze affect my dancing? How can I use my gaze in the most useful way when I dance? How can I design a choreography that takes into account the constitutive importance of sight in my body map? Is it possible to design choreography that takes into account how my perception of space affects my cognitive processes and emotional states?

This research aims to bring together artists, dancers, body method practitioners and scientists to discuss these issues. It follows three research axes:
– Perception of my body in relation to space: we explore how my perception of space participates in the elaboration and maintenance of my body schema, as well as in the perception, representation and realisation of my movements.
– Semantic aspect of my perception of space: to what extent is my perception of space involved in attributing meaning to the spaces and objects around me.
– Perception of my body in relation to this semantic network: to what extent do the spaces and objects around me determine my body perception, my body schema and my way of moving.

(1) Ross A. I., Schenk T., Hesse C., 2015.
a) “eye-movements typically precede motor actions suggesting that the main role of vision is to provide the motor system with the information needed to successfully complete an action”
b) “as soon as visual feedback of the moving hand is prevented, reaching and grasping movements were found to show systematic errors”
(2) Hansson EE, Beckman A, Håkansson A (December 2010).
(3) Hommel, B.; Müsseler, J.; Aschersleben, G.; Prinz, W., 2001
Prinz W., 2010
(4) Jeannerod, M.; Jacob, P. (2005-01-01).
1040 : „Since it penetrates deeply into visual knowledge of the world, visual perception cannot be limited to selecting an object from its surroundings, identifying it and giving it meaning. Semantic processing of visual inputs also implies comparison, which in turn requires that several objects be simultaneously represented and analyzed: hence, object perception in turn presupposes the representation of spatial relationships among two or more objects in a coordinate system independent from the perceiver. Spatial relationships in themselves carry cues for attributing meaning to an object, so that their processing is actually part of semantic processing of visual information.“

© Charlie Fouchier, 2021 / All contents are under International License

© Picture : Andrea Piacquadio

Dieses Projekt wird gefördert durch die Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien im Programm NEUSTART KULTUR, Hilfsprogramm DIS-TANZEN des Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.