Dance-making as ‘distributed cognition’


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Laptops in airplanes. Laptops in classrooms. Laptops in Starbucks. Laptops in ... a dance studio?

As Anne Marie Welsh explains in this week’s Arts & Books section, that was the scene for three weeks this winter at UC San Diego, where British contemporary choreographer Wayne McGregor and his Random Dance Company were the focus of an investigation into creative and ‘distributed’ -- that is, group -- cognition.


McGregor was willing to participate in the experiment, led by UCSD professor David Kirsh, because of his long-standing interest in what spurs his creativity. Hence, while he choreographed sections of a new piece, students observed and took notes and interviewed the members of his company about the process. Kirsh, for his part, focused on McGregor.

The students, Welsh reports, said they were developing a means for collecting data in real time that they could use when looking into other endeavors, such as gymnastics training. As for Kirsh, he told Welsh that he made ‘delightful and rich observations about giving and taking instruction that may help us learn how to improve the cognitive efficiency of instruction in other fields.’

Life, in short, is a dance.

-- Craig Fisher