Our Speakers & Workshoppers

Thomas DeFrantz

Thomas F. DeFrantz directs SLIPPAGE: Performance|Culture|Technology, a research lab that explores emerging technology in live performance applications.Believes in our shared capacity to do better and engage creative spirit for a collective good that is anti-racist, proto-feminist, and queer affirming. Convenes the Black Performance Theory working group as well as the Collegium for African Diaspora Dance, a growing consortium of 325 researchers committed to exploring Black dance practices in writing. slippage.org.

Playing the Changes: Corporeal Orature and Black Aesthetic Liveliness

How do dancers distinguish what to do when while engaged in expressive gesture? What movements belong best, and which moves are less desired within forms of improvised dance? This talk focuses on Black imagination as the source code for expressive dancing in systems of late capitalism. If variation in rhythm structures aesthetic possibilities within Black creative life, a consideration of how people rhythm will reveal strategies of presence embedded in danced gesture. Resisting any [white] universalizing method that might be typical in aesthetic theory or dance studies, this talk and movement provocation underscore how post-capital movements have been regularly achieved in Black structures of aesthetic value. Playing the changes, dancers working in Black form explore legacies of family memory and collective action through expressive gesture, carefully chosen to extend what dance can do.

Barbara Montero

Barbara Gail Montero is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. Her research considers two different notions of ‘body’: body as the physical or material substance of the world, and body as the moving, breathing, flesh and blood instrument that we use when we run, walk, dance, or play. She is author of Thought in Action: Expertise and the Conscious Mind (2016), Very Short Introduction: Philosophy of Mind (2022), and a co-author, with John Toner and Aidan Moran, of Continuous Improvement: Intertwining Mind and Body in Athletic Expertise (2022). She is a former professional ballet dancer and founding member of Logos Dance Collective. Her choreography has appeared in numerous venues, including the Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center, as part of the Periapsis Open Series, and Johns Hopkins University, as part of a discussion on the science of echolocation.

The Focused Dancer and the Attentional Focus Effect

The “attentional focus effect,” is the hypothesis that focusing on the body (typically designated as an “internal” focus of attention) leads to suboptimal results relative to focusing on the consequences of bodily actions (commonly regarded as an “external” focus of attention). Over the past twenty years, researchers have hypothesized that this effect applies to all skills at all levels of ability. I question this hypothesis with a particular focus on the question of whether it applies to dance. After unfolding the nature and scope of the attentional focus effect, in part by leading you through some exercises that involve the two types of focus, I investigate the difficulty of eliminating confounds in experiments testing the effect and examine four situations in which an internal attentional focus appears, at least sometimes, to be preferable to external one. These situations, I argue, are worthy of further empirical investigation before we can accept that the attentional focus effect applies to all types of skills, all skill levels, and all measures of performance quality. In addition, I argue that the attentional focus effect is difficult to make sense of, if one adopts an “enactive” account of cognition, according to which mental processes are understood as interactions between mind, body and environment.

Meg Wallace

Meg Wallace is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Kentucky. Her primary areas of research are metaphysics, mind, and language, with a growing side interest in aesthetics and performing arts - especially circus. She enjoys finding various ways to get students to love philosophy through spectacle and play, such as in her activity-based course, Circus and Philosophy.

In Defense of the Spectacle

'Spectacle' is often used pejoratively. More than merely being a social nuisance, spectacles are assumed to be aesthetically shallow, devoid of reflective thought or substance. They are sometimes characterized as deceptions, lies, or removals from truth - things that are both aesthetically and morally corrupt. Yet these criticisms often focus on the observer, not the participant. A shift in this focus shows that there are overlooked values in participating in spectacles: the pleasure of moving or making something with others, the experience of collectively creating something worth being seen, the benefits of being part of a community with a shared aesthetic, and the pleasures and social goods that come about from creatively cooperating with others. These outcomes are in part due to the dual nature of what a spectacle is - an activity that is inherently social but simultaneously a violation of certain societal norms. My aim is to explore this peculiar nature more fully to offer an analysis (and defense) of the spectacle.

Ben Baker

Ben Baker is a philosopher, scientist, and dancer, and who works on a broad range of issues in Philosophy of Mind, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience and AI. Baker is interested in the senses in which movement can be more or less intelligent, and in new approaches to exploring this scientifically. He is now a postdoctoral fellow in computational neuroscience at UPenn, and has a PhD in Philosophy from UPenn, and a JD from Yale.

Six Forms of Dance Cognition

There is a growing body of work in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience that tries to better understand the mind by examining it in the context of dance. Such work is often premised on the idea that dance demonstrates important, general, and underappreciated features of human thought. However, existing work in this vein is methodologically diverse and does not point to a distinct conception of the kinds of thinking that dance involves, or how they are related. In order to clarify and bolster this research agenda, I directly address the question “What does dance-cognition essentially consist of?” After providing some background and motivating the project of taking a panoramic look at basic forms of thinking in dance, I articulate a six-part theory of Dance-Cognition comprised of (i) Movement Skill, (ii) Metaphor, (iii) Emotional Regulation, (iv) Creativity, (v) Social Interaction, (vi) Stylistic and Cultural Fluency.

Michael Trocchia

Michael Trocchia is an adjunct professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at James Madison University, where he also serves as Resource Coordinator for the university’s library. He received his MA in philosophy from Temple University in Philadelphia. His poems and prose have appeared in journals such as Arion: A Journal of Humanities and the Classics, Asheville Poetry Review, The Bitter Oleander, Black Sun Lit, Chicago Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, New Orleans Review, Tarpaulin Sky, UCity Review, and The Worcester Review. His work has been anthologized in Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume IX: Virginia (Texas Review Press).

Meaningful and Mythic Movement: Susanne Langer’s Philosophy of Dance

What does it mean 'to know' something through dance? How is movement made meaningful? In this talk, I will offer an overview of how philosopher Susanne Langer’s view of dance as “an apparition of powers” addresses these questions. I will introduce her distinction between the materials of dance and its elements, and her argument that while dance is expressive movement (and thus meaningful) it is not self-expressive, despite that it is often confused as such. I will also discuss how Langer clarifies the distinction between human dance and animal dance and why she calls dance “the first true art.”

Lindsay Brainard

Lindsay Brainard is an assistant professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a philosopher of science by training, and her research focuses on creativity and discovery in the sciences and other domains. This research draws upon insights from the philosophy of science, epistemology, and aesthetics. Lately, Lindsay has been focused on the question of whether there is a characteristic value of creative achievements that explains why creativity is rightfully prized.

What is Creativity?

In this paper, I argue for a novel account of creativity that unifies creative achievements in the arts, sciences, and other domains and identifies its characteristic value as epistemic value. This account draws upon case studies of creative work in both the arts in sciences to identify creativity as a kind of exploration. I argue that if creativity is properly understood as successful exploration, then it is (1) fundamentally a process of processes, (2) something only agents can achieve, (3) something that comes in degrees, (4) subjectively novel, and (5) non-formulaic. In defending my account, I critically engage with contemporary accounts of the nature of creativity. Recently, Alison Hills and Alexander Bird have argued that creativity is not necessarily valuable. My account challenges this view. If I am right that creativity is a kind of exploration, creativity does have a characteristic value, specifically the epistemic value of understanding.

Edyta Kuzian

Edyta works on embodied aesthetics and phenomenology, focusing especially on Merleau-Ponty’s account of bodily intentionality. She argues that the phenomenological account of bodily intentionality must be extended to an aesthetic model of bodily intentionality, which is intended to help us understand spontaneous movement in dance, children’s play, and gestures.

The Meaning in Contemporary Dance

The aim of this paper is to articulate the meaning manifest in contemporary dance. I develop an account of what I call aesthetic bodily intentionality, which I argue is non-goal oriented bodily movement. I clarify the basic notion of bodily intentionality through Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception. For Merleau Ponty, bodily intentionality is essentially non-representational—we exhibit sensitivity to the environment without representing it or using concepts. While I endorse this account of the body as non-representational conception of the body, I argue that Merleau-Ponty’s framework is ultimately limited. Specifically, he mostly restricts his consideration of bodily intentionality to the kinds of bodily movements involved in task-fulfilment. I further argue that this restriction leaves him unable to account for purposeful but non-goal oriented spontaneous movements, such as that manifest in dance, children’s play, and gestures. In the second section I develop the framework in which to appreciate the non-goal oriented movement as artful. For this purpose I refer to Immanuel Kant’s notion of judgments of taste, which demand that in appreciating beauty, we ought to view it as purposive without purpose. The main idea behind the aesthetic model of bodily intentionality is to view bodily movement as capable of being artful in just this way, as serving no instrumental purpose, yet as meaningful. In the final section of the paper, I argue that the normative aesthetic force of the body in dance is a sui generis manifestation of a non-categorizable intelligibility. To support this idea with examples I turn to contemporary dance choreography, which draws on spontaneous bodily movement as an inexhaustible source of meaning.

Petronella Foultier

Anna Petronella FOULTIER (former Fredlund) is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Umeå University, Sweden. She wrote her thesis on Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy of expression, and her current research is focused on artistic experience and affectivity in dance. Foultier has taught in many areas of philosophy at various universities, and has published in journals such as Hypatia, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, Journal of Aesthetics and Phenomenology, Continental Philosophy Review, Chiasmi international, JBSP, and NDPR. She also works as a translator of philosophy and fiction, and has translated Beauvoir, Derrida, Foucault, Kundera, Merleau-Ponty, Nora and many others into Swedish.

Affectivity in the Artistic Experience of Dance

In this paper, I will examine the role that affectivity plays in the experience and appreciation of dance, drawing on the theory of the scaffolded mind (Sterelny 2010), developed by Giovanna Colombetti and Joel Krueger (e.g. Colombetti & Krueger 2015, Colombetti 2017a, 2017b) into a theory of scaffolded affectivity (where affectivity includes emotions, feelings, moods, and motivational states). Applying this account of affectivity to the appreciation of art, I will argue, can help understanding the role that our affective life plays in artistic practice, without the usual quandaries of expressive theories of art (for a summary, see Neill 2005). While aesthetic theories of emotion commonly see artistic value as related either to the emotion expressed by the artist in the artwork, or the emotion evoked by the artwork in the audience, or both, this view of affectivity understands affects not as internal states but as hybrid processes encompassing organic states of the subject, material objects (such as clothes, cars, handbags, nature, music, cinemas) and sometimes other people, animals etc. It is thus an externalist theory, describing affective states as involving “the active manipulation of the world” (Colombetti et al. 2015, 1160; italics in text), where parts of the world serve to regulate moods, to articulate and sometimes elicit emotions. I will explore these ideas along two dimensions. Firstly, drawing on earlier work (Foultier 2021, 2022), I will examine the role that the dancer’s body – her artistic instrument – plays as an affective resource in her artistic and performative practice. Secondly, I will briefly consider a choreographic work by Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal, Untitled Black, to see how an analysis of this piece as a vehicle of affective processes for the audience can clarify its artistic value.

Mykelle Walton

Internationally recognized circus artist turned academic, Mykelle Walton, studies Philosophy and Dance at Mount Holyoke College. Her circus work draws implicit parallels between the human experience, philosophy, and physics while layering ideals of the emotional journey, critical theory and aerodynamics. Applying her accomplishments in aerial acrobatics she creates an interdisciplinary playground incorporating rigorous philosophy research. Her current work follows two distinct lines: (1) experimental embodied research about cultural spaces and times (2) Pushing the physical boundaries of what the human body can do - combining it with the strength, grace, and artistry of contemporary aerial arts to create complex work.

Subversive Gestures: living without horologue time and its parallel of my hair suspension practice

This paper explores the cultural subversion of my durational piece “Horologue” in which I lived without clocks for 90 days, and its conversation with my extensive embodied practice in aerial acrobatics and more recent foray into philosophy. Specifically, I outline the parallels found in the creative process between my concurrent study of hair suspension- a traditional circus art of hanging the weight of the body from specifically braided hair- and Horologue. The liminality between the floor and the air during hair suspension is a subversive gesture of space, highlighting normality bias of movement patterns in people. My exploration was guided by my own temporal research for the duration of Horologue, as well as texts on the cultural history of time and philosophical debates about the present. I raise questions like “How does our embodied sense of time establish or contribute to our understanding of the present?” and “What course will my body take within a society that highly values efficiency, punctuality, and precision?” In doing so, I invite movement practitioners and philosophers alike to create space for circus, and open conversation using philosophically guided practice as a method of inquiry.

Alex Mendez

Alex Mendez is a PhD candidate at The Graduate Center, CUNY. His academic interests include, free will, meaning in life, ethics, and aesthetics. He is in the process of writing his dissertation, where he intends to defend the view that libertarian free will makes life more meaningful. Before studying philosophy, Alex was a dedicated student of the performing arts, and has put much effort into balancing work life with his passion for acting and ballet.

Natural Expressivity and the Philosophy of Dance: Self-Reflective Communication

In this talk, I reinterpret and defend the concept of “Natural Expressivity,” found in the philosophy of dance literature. By situating myself among authors such as Margolis (1981), and Sirridge and Armelagos (1983), I argue that natural expressivity is a kind of “communication.” However, I contend that it is a higher-order, self-reflective, form of communication. Ultimately, natural expressivity is the dancer’s recognition, or belief, that their bodies ought to move in a particular way, over any other, equally legitimate, ways; where equally legitimate ways to move one’s body is predicated on the dancer’s particular aesthetic ends. Natural expressivity thus captures a conceptual phenomenon I call, a “dancer’s basic motivation to move.” I conclude the talk by showing how my understanding of natural expressivity might aid in answering other inquires that philosophers of dance are concerned with: such as what makes movement meaningful?

Noam Tiran

I'm a philosophy graduate student at UCSD. I usually work at the intersection of four areas: the philosophy of mind and the cognitive sciences, the philosophy of action, moral psychology, and aesthetics. I'm particularly fascinated by phenomena that don't fit snuggly in either "the space of reasons" or "the space of causes," like the immensely variegated category of unreflective human performances.

When I'm not doing philosophy - and sometimes when I am - I enjoy being outdoors, preferably with my partner, our friends, and some backpacks.

Control Models and Styles of Skillful Action

Many of our actions are actions in a certain style. They adhere to, or express, our own way of doing things. We can have an aggressive or a placid style of driving; a sloppy or a meticulous style of washing the dishes; an idiomatic or a weird way of playing jazz. These styles of skillful action (SSAs, as I will call them), I suggest, share some unique and interesting characteristics. In this paper, I aim to spell out these characteristics in order to make some headway towards a unified account of what makes skilled actions – a magnificent demonstration of dance improv skills or an unimpressive case of run-of-the-mill driving – an action in a certain style. I suggest that SSAs do not fall neatly into one of the two categories of style identified in the philosophical literature, namely individual and general style. Then, I move on to propose that an account of SSAs could benefit from model-based approaches to skilled action. Acquiring an SSA partly consists in developing certain internal control models, which then partly govern actions performed in accordance with that SSA.

Ilya Vidrin

Dr. Ilya Vidrin is an Assistant Professor of Creative Practice Research and core faculty at the Institute for Experiential Robotics at Northeastern University. Born into a refugee family, Ilya grew up navigating the nuances of cultural expectations, language barriers, and diverging political ideologies. This experience of code-switching fuels Ilya's research and artistic practice to examine social ethics in physical interaction, including intimate labors of care, cultural competence, and social responsibility. As an interdisciplinary research-practitioner, Ilya’s work draws on concepts and methods in social epistemology, performance philosophy, ethics of care, and cognitive psychology. Most recently, Ilya was featured as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” (2022), and was an artist-in-residence at the Harvard ArtLab, L.A. Contemporary Dance Company, North Atlantic Ballet, Ballet Des Moines, Jacob’s Pillow, and the New Museum (NYC).

Practicing Joint Action through Attunement: A Somatic Partnering Workshop

In this one-hour workshop, we will examine the specific characteristics of dependence in dancing together through the practice of Somatic Partnering. We will consider how important ethical concepts, such as trust and manipulation, can be explored through movement and physical interaction. Participants will be led through a series of thoughtfully facilitated, interactive movement exercises. These will allow us to consider the ethical

significance of touch, proximity, and gaze in social interaction. We will also discuss how changing forms of physical interaction and dance have historically shaped societies and can alter our collective future. All bodies and physical abilities are very welcome.

Joselli Deans

Joselli Audain Deans, an Associate Professor in the School of Dance at the University of Utah, joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem after receiving most of her training at the company’s school. A scholar and an artist, she holds a Doctorate in Dance Education from Temple University. Her research focuses on Black dancers’ contributions in the American Ballet World. She has taught dance technique at Philadanco and several academic institutions; presented her work at scholarly conferences, including at Corps de Ballet International and Collegium for African Diaspora Dance. Her research is published on Arthur Mitchell’s archival collection on Columbia University’s website and in (Re:)Claiming Ballet. Some of her consultancy includes work for New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, among others, the Dance Oral History Project for NYPL, and as a design and facilitation team member for the Equity Project completed in 2020. Currently, she is completing a chapter on ballerina Delores Browne for The Oxford Handbook of Black Studies.

Embodied Movement: Accessing Immateriality through Materiality

This workshop will provide an opportunity for participants to embody movement and gestures as modes of being—individually and collectively. Moving our material bodies in this way will create a space for immaterial practices, such as contemplation and spirituality. Embodied practices will embrace movements such as walking and simple gesture. Examining the individual’s experience through a diversified lens will also be explored in pursuit of finding the unity in diversity of the collective.

This workshop is designed for every body and will not require any previous movement experience. Please wear clothes that allow for freedom of movement.

Eric Handman

Eric Handman is a choreographer and an Associate Professor at the University of Utah’s School of Dance. He earned a BA in English from Skidmore College in 1991, danced professionally in New York City during the 90s and graduated with his MFA from the University of Utah in 2003. He is currently on the editorial board for the Alliance for the Arts in Research Institutions (a2ru) and the board of directors for SALT Contemporary Dance. Handman is a Fulbright Specialist and a former member of the University of Utah's Entrepreneurial Faculty Scholars. He is a winner of the New Visions Choreography Competition for Idaho Dance Theater and the Northwest Dance Project’s International Choreographic Competition. His ongoing research focuses on Choreographic Thinking as applied to live dance, virtual reality, games and drones. He has been a Celebrate U honoree for his research in choreography and virtual reality and a recipient of the College of Fine Arts Faculty Excellence Award for research.

The Poetics of Complex Systems: a Choreographic Method

This workshop will demonstrate a collaborative choreographic process that creates conditions for the rapid emergence of complex, mid- to large group partnering. This aleatoric and systems thinking approach enables groups to produce dense networks of partnering from a process of quasi-self-organization. The resulting rhizome-like assemblages have, over my years of practice, reliably manifested aesthetic values of complexity, intensity, unpredictability, unity and ambiguity.

Thi Nguyen

I’m C. Thi Nguyen. I used to be a food writer, now I’m a philosophy professor at University of Utah. I write about trust, art, games, and communities. I’m interested in the ways that our social structures and technologies shape how we think and what we value.

Thi is working in Collaboration with Eric Handman

Spencer Ivy

Hi! I am a philosopher of action and expertise who loves to dance (poorly).

Most of my work centers around understanding the relationship between automaticity and conscious thought in skilled action and expertise. My main inspiration comes from a fascination with Flow States. I believe that the metaphysics and aesthetics of what we colloquially call 'effortless action' are windows into a collectively loved (though enigmatic) feature of the human experience. It is my goal to bring both academic and pedagogical attention to the phenomenon of flow in my research and teaching, respectively. I have two recent publications on Creativity and Unconscious Action Control in Synthese & The Journal of Consciousness Studies.

I am the workshop & event host. For questions, comments, RSVPs, and everything in between, I'm your guy.

Thank you to everyone who has made this event possible!