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Date of Award


Access Type

Campus Access

Document type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Comparative Literature

First Advisor

William Moebius

Second Advisor

Heidi Gilpin

Third Advisor

Catherine Portuges

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Dance | Performance Studies


Perception, particularly in the case of dance spectatorship, is a kind of performance. This study considers how spectators' perception of a dance performance is shaped by a combination of the material conditions of the space, spectators' kinetic and psychological histories, as well as their previous encounters with dance and the individual performers. In particular, whether we have experience performing the kind of movement enacted by the dancers can greatly alter how we perceive the movement. Kinesthetic empathy, or the ability to intuit what others are experiencing based upon their bodily behavior, is particularly shaped by our movement histories. As understood by phenomenological theory, kinesthetic empathy is a socially informed, intentional perception of others' experiences, such as physical pain, as being distinct from one's own. Phenomenological accounts then differ from neurological approaches, such as those put forth by mirror neuron theorists, holding that we unconsciously simulate others' behavior and then project our sensation of that simulation onto them. It is suggested that phenomenological accounts of dance performances, replete with idiosyncratic, visceral responses to the performances spaces and performers alike serve as a complement and/or corrective to disembodied, non-embedded neurological studies and abstracted theoretical treatments of dance.

A phenomenological approach to discussing kinesthetic empathy will be performed upon works by contemporary choreographers, including: Rosie Kay, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Nir de Vollf , and Sasha Waltz.