Knowing through dancing
The enactivist paradigm
Philosophers of mind Mark Rowlands described enactivism as ‘the 4E’s of cognition: mental processes are embodied, embedded, enacted, extended’ (Rowlands, 2010). The enactivist paradigm in cognitive science is a theory developed from the Extended Mind Thesis, theories that reject the body-mind split and locate cognition not ‘contained within the boundaries of the body,’ but instead, ‘extends into the agent’s world’ (Wilson & Foglia, 2015). In other words, enactivism refers to the embodied activities in which knowledge ‘collides and interacts’ with the knowing subject (Palermos et al., 2013). It is an extended functional approach to embodied cognition because the body is considered ‘just one element in a kind of equal-partners dance between brain, body and world, with the nature of the mind fixed by the overall balance thus achieved’ (Clark, 2008: 56-7).
The enactivist paradigm helps to understand somatic practices, and in extension any form of dancing, as a specific form of embodied knowing that is integrated in abstract domains of a pre-established knowing. Our thinking thus depends on our perceptually guided actions, the kinds of bodily experiences these produce, and our individual capacities. Capacities that are themselves embed in more encompassing biological, psychological, and cultural context of the thinking and knowing subject. Knowing thus extends far beyond the physical border of the body. (Varela et al., 2016: 173).
Situating an eco-somatic dance epistemology
The enactive approach studies how the perceiver can guide his/her/their actions in a local situation, a situation that constantly changes as a result of those actions. Founding figure in contemporary sociology of knowledge, Barry Barnes, introduced the notion ‘enaction’ in practice theory (Schatzki et al., 2001: vii). In his essay ‘Practice as a collective action,’ Barnes describes enaction as a tool for exchanging and learning knowledge in practices. He further refers to it as the dominant pedagogic process through which we learn by doing, a crucial part of the nature of so-called sharing practices (Barnes, 2001).
She Anna Pakes claims that dance epistemology relates directly to its material body, the physical body, and will thus always be loaded with a body-mind problem – the dichotomy between having a body and being a body (Pakes, 2006: 88). However, she continues her argument adopting the enactivist paradigm in dance epistemology by explaining that practicing dancing is not only inside the body and extends in-between and around the dancing subjects. Studies in dance as an epistemic activity thus aim to untangle, or at least loosen up, the relations between the dancer, their experiences of dancing, the history and the structure of the practice, the group of practitioners, and the spatiotemporal setting of the practice (Parviainen, 2002; Downey, 2010; Warburton, 2011; Sturm, 2011; Carmona, 2018).
The continuous alterations in my research practice Nervous Systems are influenced by a growing recognition that organizing dance practice-based research is foremost organizing an ethical space that focuses on the relations between what is and can be known by a group of individuals in a particular time and space. In eco-somatic theories, as defined by dance theorist Marie Bardet and colleagues, the body-mind-environment is a cognitive unit. The somatic practices aim to integrate these three components of the self in its knowledge production (Bardet, 2015). As such, eco-somatic epistemology subscribes to a feminist and social lineage in epistemology because we have to be aware of who and when knowledge is produced and how our social and material environment is marked by such constituted knowledge (Lennon et al., 1991; Crowley et al., 1992; Flax, 1998: 248). Somatic dance knowledge is a social and collective constructed thinking through dancing. A process of the practice to generate belief and reason. (Dragos, 2018). More precisely, somatic knowing is social in the sense of generating generalized and normative beliefs and collective in the sense that practitioners are dependent on others for ‘the social justification of beliefs’ (Rorty, 1979: 170). Knowing is thus considered more a matter of values than of facts.