Cognitive Processing

, Volume 6, Issue 4, pp 243–252

Thinking in action: thought made visible in contemporary dance

Research Report

DOI: 10.1007/s10339-005-0014-x

Cite this article as:
Stevens, C. & McKechnie, S. Cogn Process (2005) 6: 243. doi:10.1007/s10339-005-0014-x


Contemporary dance—movement deliberately and systematically cultivated for its own sake—is examined in the light of the procedural and declarative view of long-term knowledge. We begin with a description of two settings in which new works of contemporary dance are created and performed. Although non-verbal, contemporary dance can be a language declared through movement and stillness of the body. Ideas for new movement material come from objects, events or imaginings that are spoken, seen, heard, imagined, or felt. Declared through movement, the idea becomes visible. Communication in dance involves general psychological processes such as direct visual perception of motion and force, motor simulation via mirror neurons, and implicit learning of movement vocabularies and grammars. Creating and performing dance appear to involve both procedural and declarative knowledge. The latter includes the role of episodic memory in performance and occasional labelling of movement phrases and sections in rehearsal. Procedural knowledge in dance is augmented by expressive nuance, feeling and communicative intent that is not characteristic of other movement-based procedural tasks. Having delineated lexical and grammatical components in dance, neural mechanisms are identified based on Ullman’s (Ullman in Cognition 92:231–270, 2004) alignment of lexical knowledge with declarative memory and mental grammar with procedural memory. We conclude with suggestions for experiments to test these assumptions that concern thought in action in composition, performance and appreciation of contemporary dance.


ActionMemoryProcedural knowledgeDeclarative knowledgeImplicit learningNon-verbal communication

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MARCS Auditory LaboratoriesUniversity of Western SydneySouth PenrithAustralia
  2. 2.School of DanceVictorian College of the ArtsMelbourneAustralia