Embodiment, Appreciation and Dance:


 Issues in relation to an exploration of the experiences of

London based, ‘non-aligned’ artists.




D.J. Carr



A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment for the degree of PhD




School of Arts


Roehampton University


University of Surrey






This thesis offers an interdisciplinary exploration of ‘embodiment’ in relation to the appreciation of dance as a performing art practised in contemporary London at the beginning of the twenty first century.


Consideration of different uses of the term  ‘embodiment’ suggests that while artists may approach the embodiment of their dance with a sense of personal intention, their dancing may also be understood to embody ‘ways of being’ that, enmeshed within a wider culture, raise questions as to the relationship between  individual agency and the discursive practices within which dance is understood.  Such conceptual reflections establish a theoretical context from which to investigate the viewpoints of dance artists themselves.


Fieldwork amongst dance artists thus contributed to the research. Working in London but coming from a range of dance traditions and making work outside the ‘mainstream’ dance companies, their input provides valuable insights into what, at present, may be important aspects of culture that influence what is perceived as embodied in dance. In addition, their experiences of making and performing dance inform investigation of the relationship between phenomenological and semiotic approaches to dance.


In this context consideration of what is embodied in dance is found to be important to reflection on its appreciation. Further, the appreciation of dance performance is considered as an embodied act, important to which is the phenomenological experience of dance as communicative. Such experience is suggested to be dependent on, but not completely bound by semiotic systems thus allowing for the personal agency of both performer and audience.



0.0 Background to the Research

0.1 Research Parameters and Some Issues of Terminology

0.2 Concepts of ‘Embodiment’ and ‘Appreciation’

0.3 Interdisciplinary Perspective

0.4 Artists’ Perspectives


Chapter 1                                                                                                      

Approaching the Subject

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Focus of the Research

1.2 Initial Development of the Research Method

1.3 Choice of Research Subjects

1.4 Details of Project Participants

1.5 The Initial Research Process and Clarification of Research Questions

1.6 Refining the Research Method


Chapter Two

Exploring ‘Embodiment’: Issues in the Appreciation of Dance

2.0 Introduction

2.1 ‘Appreciation'

2.2 The Concept of ‘Embodiment’ in Dance Studies

2.3 Form Versus Feeling: Traditional Approaches to Dance

2.4 Interpretation and the Problem of Expression

2.5 Phenomenological Approaches to Dance

2.6 Semiotic Approaches to Dance

2.7 The Concept of ‘Embodiment’ within an Ecological Theory of Art

2.8 Cross Disciplinary Issues

2.9 Embodiment, Appreciation and Language

Chapter Three

Exploring ‘Embodiment’: Some Anthropological and Sociological Perspectives

3.0 Introduction

3.1 Embodiment and the Aesthetic Appreciation of (Western) Theatre Dance

3.2 Embodiment in Sociology and Anthropology

3.3 Early and Mid Twentieth Century Anthropological and Sociological Approaches to the Body/Embodiment 

3.4 Power and Distinction: Perspectives from the work of Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu

3.5 Implications for the Intertextual Interpretation of Dance

3.6 The Significance of the Kinaesthetic

3.7 Embodiment, Intertextuality and the Role of the Imagination in Appreciation


Chapter Four

Exploring ‘Embodiment’: Dance Artists’ Perspectives

4.0 Introduction

4.1 Approaches to Making Dance for Performance

4.2 Shifting Perspectives

4.3 Experiences of Performance

4.4 Accounting for the Dancers’ Experiences within Semiotics

4.5 Recognising the ‘Lived Body’

4.6 Improvisation as Phenomenological Experience

4.7 Recognising Normative Influences

4.8 Implications for the Relationship between Dancer and Audience


Chapter Five

Dance, Diversity and Appreciation

5.0 Introduction

5.1 Dance and Diversity in the Capital

5.2 Perspectives on Diversity in Britain

5.3 Perceptions of ’Difference’

5.4 Dance and ’New Ethnicities’

5.5 Diversity and Questions of Value

5.6 Global Perspectives

5.7 Diversity, Individualism and Choice


Chapter Six

Dualism and Dance: Desire and Distance

6.0 Introduction

6.1 Body:Mind Problems

6.2 Soul:Flesh Perspectives

6.3 Gender Issues

6.4 Feminist Perspectives

6.5 Sex and Aesthetics

6.6 Erotic ‘Others’

6.7 Dualism and Difference

6.8 Embodying New Corporealities


Chapter Seven

Dance Styles and Skills: Significance in a Postmodern Context

7.0 Introduction

7.1 Dance as a Communicative Phenomenon

7.2 Between Structure and Agency: Merleau­Ponty’s Account of Reciprocity

7.3 Democracies’ Bodies

7.4 Cultural Diversity, Bodily Style and The Dancer’s Image

7.5 The Dancer’s Image in Late Capitalism

7.6 The Significance of the Virtuosic

7.7 New Dance Style and the Embodiment of ‘Lack’

7.8 Agency and the Dancer’s Image




Appendix One: Draft Questions for Initial Discussions with Artists

Appendix Two: Summary of Key Contacts

Appendix Three: Research Participant Consent Form






As I wrote this thesis I recognised the influence of many, many people and would thus like to thank and remember all my teachers and those I have worked with, from my first dance teachers at the Hasland school, to those at The Hammond School, later in Dublin and at Laban and Roehampton and also my colleagues in the fields of dance and education.


In particular I would like to remember Paula Hinton-Gore and thank Heather Fish, Valerie Taylor, Adam Darius and Babil Gandara: without their coaching I would not have developed the skills and confidence to perform. I am also indebted to Alastair Macaulay who helped me recognise that studying about dance might be more interesting than I had envisaged and Francine Watson-Coleman and Valerie Preston-Dunlop who introduced me to some of the theoretical issues that are explored in this research. 


More recently, Nina Anderson, Gaby Agis and Sushma Mehta, whom I know from working at Morley College, generously agreed to participate in the research and, along with three other artists (who chose to remain anonymous), contributed with a level of integrity and interest which was very inspiring and for which I thank all of them.   


Above all my supervisors, Doctors Andrée Grau and Bonnie Rowell, have provided a wisely balanced blend of encouragement, insights and demands, without which this thesis would have never reached completion.


Lastly I would like to thank my family - my husband and brother for helping with proof reading, my father and mother for supporting me though my dance education  and my daughter Greta for never letting me get too bogged down in research.