Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy

Research Activities: TMS Study 1

For one of our studies we made some short films of specially choreographed performances using Ballet and Bharatanatyam vocabulary. Short pieces (4 minutes) of ballet and bharatanatyam were performed live to participants at the studios of Scottish Ballet in Glasgow in February 2009. For this part of the project we chose to compare responses to ballet and bharatanatyam because these are discrete styles with well-defined vocabularies, by contrast with contemporary dance, which frequently combines elements of different styles. 


Ballet and bharatanatyam also both have strong narrative traditions, but the impact of story-telling on response to movement was not a question we addressed in this part of our research. Utilising questionnaires supplemented by responses in the interviews to gather information about personal histories in watching different styles of dance, we classified participants as experienced, intermediate and novice spectators in each of the two dance forms.  The spectators watched the performances in an intimate studio context, in pairs, while also participating in TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) scanning. Afterwards they were interviewed about their responses to the performances.


The ballet sequence was choreographed by Corinne Jola in consultation with dance scholar Jang Seon Hee from Sejong University, Korea.  It was a concatenation of three fairy solos from the Royal Ballet version of Sleeping Beauty; ‘Breadcrumb Fairy’, ‘ Enchanted Garden’, ‘Lilac Fairy’, and one mime part from ‘Lilac Fairy’.  The music was recorded extracts from Sleeping Beauty – Ballet in a prologue and three acts from Tchaikovsky Op. 66 (2007). The bharatanatyam piece was a popular ‘padam’ from the traditional repertoire describing God Krishna’s childhood pranks.  It was a mime piece set to a 3 beat cycle.  The music was ‘Theeradha Vilayattu Pillai’ by Subramanya Bharathiyar taken from ‘Nupura Naadam’.  The ballet was performed by a 24-year old female Caucasian professional dancer.  The bharatanatyam was choreographed and performed by a 29-year old female Asian professional Bharatanatyam dancer. 


These films were made with the help of Blindside Production Company in Glasgow.


Ballet, performed by Kimberly Lawrie



Bharatnayam, performed by Anna Kuppuswamy


© The Watching Dance Project