Recontextualizing Dance Skills: Overcoming Impediments to Motor Learning and Expressivity in Ballet Dancers

Frontiers in Psychology 7 (2016)
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The process of transmitting ballet’s complex technique to young dancers can interfere with the innate processes that give rise to efficient, expressive and harmonious movement. With the intention of identifying possible solutions, this article draws on research across the fields of neurology, psychology, motor learning, and education, and considers their relevance to ballet as an art form, a technique, and a training methodology. The integration of dancers’ technique and expressivity is a core theme throughout the paper. A brief outline of the historical development of ballet’s aesthetics and training methods leads into factors that influence dancers’ performance. An exploration of the role of the neuromotor system in motor learning and the acquisition of expert skills reveals the roles of sensory awareness, imagery, and intention in cuing efficient, expressive movement. It also indicates potentially detrimental effects of conscious muscle control, explicit learning and persistent naïve beliefs. Finally, the paper presents a new theory regarding the acquisition of ballet skills. Recontextualization theory proposes that placing a problematic task within a new context may engender a new conceptual approach and/or sensory intention, and hence the genesis of new motor programs; and that these new programs may lead to performance that is more efficient, more rewarding for the dancer, more pleasing aesthetically, and more expressive. From an anecdotal point of view, this theory appears to be supported by the progress of many dancers at various stages of their dancing lives.



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