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Cognitive Semiotics

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Intersubjectivity at Close Quarters: How Dancers of Tango Argentino Use Imagery for Interaction and Improvisation

Michael Kimmel
Published Online: 2013-10-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem.2009.4.1.76


The article explores the prerequisites of embodied ‘conversations’ in the improvisational pair dance tangoargentino. Tango has been characterized as a dialog of two bodies. Using first- and second-person phenomenological methods, I investigate the skills that enable two dancers to move as a super-individual ensemble, to communicate without time lag, and to feel the partner’s intention at every moment. How can two persons - walking in opposite directions and with partly different knowledge - remain in contact throughout, when every moment can be an invention? I analyze these feats through the lens of image schemas such as BALANCE, FORCE, PATH, and UP-DOWN (Johnson 1987). Technique-related discourse - with its use of didactic metaphor - abounds with image-schematic vectors, geometries, and construal operations like profiling. These enable the tango process: from posture, via walking technique and kinetics, to attention and contact skills. Dancers who organize their muscles efficiently - e.g., through core tension - and who respect postural ‘grammar’ - e.g., a good axis - enable embodied dialog by being receptive to their partners and being manoeuvrable. Super-individual imagery that defines ‘good’ states for a couple to stick to, along with relational attention management and kinetic calibration of joint walking, turns the dyad into a single action unit. My further objective is a micro-phenomenological analysis of joint improvisation. This requires a theory to explain dynamic sensing, the combining of repertory knowledge with this, and the managing of both in small increments. Dancers strategically sense action affordances (Gibson 1979) or recognize and exploit them on the fly. Dynamic routines allow them to negotiate workable configurations step-wise, assisted by their knowledge of node points where the elements of tango are most naturally connected and re-routed. The paper closes with general lessons to learn from these highly structured and embodied improvisational skills, especially regarding certain blind spots in current social cognition theory.

Keywords : cognitive ethnography; micro-phenomenology; co-regulation; improvisation; embodied apprenticeship; image schemas; metaphor; affordances

About the article

Published Online: 2013-10-18

Published in Print: 2009-04-01

Citation Information: Cognitive Semiotics, Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 76–124, ISSN (Online) 2235-2066, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cogsem.2009.4.1.76.

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