Coordination in Dance

As we move in the world, we are presented with stimuli that arrives at our sensory organs in a continuous fashion. However, during the act of perception we are able to segment these continuous stimuli into events. For instance words are segmented from a continuous stream of speech, or passages are segmented from a continuous stream of music. This process of segmentation provides a way of identifying and organizing events in time so that similarities between events can be recognized. Similarities between musical events are a way to provide hierarchical reference within compositions and thereby create musical expectations within the listener; expectations that lead to responses such as fulfillment or surprise.

Dancing involves coordinating control over many degrees of freedom as multiple limb segments are synchronized with a rhythmic stimulus. Perceptual segmentation has been implicated in memory for dance movements, so it is plausible that segmentation also plays a role in the production of dance movements. One hypothesis is that a perception-action loop in dancing allows many competing segmentations of a rhythm to exist as prepercepts whereas only one of these is available as a conscious entity. Thus for ambiguous rhythms there might be several fully-formed and stable prepercepts that could continue to participate in the synchronization of rhythmic movements even though only one of these would be reported if a participant were asked to report the organization that they heard.

Hypotheses about perceptual organization and coordinated movement are tested in the Human Dynamics Lab by motion tracking individuals as they dance, either solo or in pairs.  The resulting motion tracking data is then analyzed and modeled using techniques developed by members of the lab for the analysis of stationary and nonstationary time series.