Friday, May 27, 2016

A scientific vision of Dance

A scientific vision of Dance
Melisa Palacio López

Sub chapters


1. Constructing a bridge                                                                                                            

2. Potential of physics science towards dance productions                                               

3. Artistic pieces on the bridge                                                                                              

Conclusion: after building the bridge                                                                                


What can a dancer do conceiving the instrument, the axis of his (her) work? Namely the human body, not only as a tool, origin or inspiration, but located as a central piece of an arrangement of elements? Considering it as a piece of a huge assembly that interacts within a framework of mathematical principles?

In this article I will illustrate how these questions construct possible routes between disciplines, i.e. dance and physics. With it, a thread of communication among transdisciplinary instruments can contribute for further artistic and multimedia design.

Initially, the aim will be to find common terms to propose a bridge between disciplines. Then, scientific visions, discoveries or theories will be explored as an illustration to introduce the potential of physics science towards dance productions and design. After, I will present common points where scientists and dancers share concepts and create artistic pieces. Finally, I remark audio-visual design as a path of articulation and supporting feature to enrich the creative process in dance.

1. Constructing a bridge

Let’s start to build a bridge between disciplines imagining two different shores willing to communicate with each other. I will propose the foundations as main structures of our bridge. Then, to establish threads of connection, there will be common points where both borders relate to each other.

From the physics side, a first foundation begins with the term system. This can be considered as a delimited area of study whereby properties or facts are measured regarding internal behavior and interactions with the external medium; then data is extracted. A new statement is proven when several observations and measurements are made under certain conditions. That is to say, a body is observed and revealed. This body is a source of information translated into mathematical language and this translation means two things. First, it intends to transpose the observations of the system into another media, namely into a piece of paper, a piece of software or an audiovisual piece. Secondly, it intends to decode patterns and facts using functions or equations that describe certain behavior.

A second foundation from this perspective considers dance as a human body influenced under forces that play with time and space. A body is a system constituted of subsystems that produce certain mechanics. One can conceive an arrangement of collaborative elements being a unity.  Together they respond to the main theories of physics, i.e. general statements. For instance, natural laws such Law of Gravitation (Schutz 2003, 12). Formally, a physical body is ‘an object or substance that has three dimensions, a mass, and is distinguishable from surrounding objects’ (Collins English Dictionary)

The term body in the dance field, can be considered as the object / subject that is experienced through movement. It is therefore transformed into an instrument to be manifested, contemplated or measured. Another consideration of body analyzes it as an 'object constantly created by and acted upon by forces of the “external world”, but it itself envelops / produces a subject - the production of subjectivity that creates and separates an individual’ (Pregrad 2012, 11)

This first foundation from dance and philosophy sets the body as the axis, that is, the medium through which the dance fact can occur. From this perspective, a human body / object can be considered as a system that follows common points within a scientific perspective, since it responds to general statements. In particular, those related with analysis of movement and the influence of forces.

A second foundation from the dance field is the conception of physics science for a dancer, choreographer or body artist. Physics can be conceived as an abstract and consistent delineation of what a human body describes: movement and its interactions with surrounding medium. A choreographer can take mathematical concepts to design several qualities of movement. They can bring physical notions to dance design and, furthermore, have the possibility to communicate scientific concepts through movement.

Communicative structures

After identifying foundations from both shores, let’s begin to construct communicative structures that will illustrate possible relationships.

Physics and dance deal with certain terms that are shared in dance pedagogy: velocity, spin, mass, momentum, space, gravity, time, pressure, volume, potential, energy. All of these terms are our structures and each of them has meaning in physics applicable to dance. How can a dancer transform his (her) creative process understanding the structures from a mathematical and logical perspective?

For instance, the concept of velocity. In physical terms, it is conceived as the amount of distance / space into a specific amount of time, its equation is:    , where the terms of derivations means that any variation of the space (distance) in time will result into an increment or reduction on the amount of distance covered. The integral symbol refers to the area that this variations describe in a coordinate plane.

The dance experience is related completely with the term velocity. How can dance be complemented through mathematical expressions? To find out the last equation, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz contributed separately to develop the tremendous mathematical tool of calculus, i.e. what we nowadays recognize as infinitesimal calculus (Jahnke 2003: 73). This equation could be simple at first sight, but it implied the observations of bodies / systems to determine a general statement, the second law of movement into the classic mechanics.

The variation of velocity is named acceleration, i.e. . Under Newton’s definitions, the momentum is defined as the product of its mass and velocity, and furthermore the variation of momentum in the time is defined as Force . Connecting definitions, we have , that is, .

The last equation is the famous second law of motion in classic mechanics (Schutz 2003: 9). The beauty of this statement lies not only in its simplicity but it its extension. It explains, for instance, the movement of rockets, pendulums and the operation of machines. It can explain, predict and describe the movement of the human body.

This is one of the contributions between physics and dance. It extrapolates the notion of physical body / human body / systems in terms of universal languages. It obeys natural laws, as mentioned before, as a piece of an assembly of mathematical principles.

How this description can transform / influence the dance experience and its creative work?

This mathematical deduction is an illustration of how movement is transposed into another media and an abstract language. Therefore, we are dancing these equations. The human body describes curves and evolutions of several geometries in time. Graphical descriptions, such as area, parabolas, and circles are connected with terms like force, mass, velocity or time. Implementing the attributes of physics into dance is to construct a transdisciplinary bond that connects and contributes to both shores.

Knowing how to extrapolate the language of movement with deterministic expressions, diagrams and scientific theories brings the potential not only to predict but to configure qualities and arrangements of dance. This type of analysis also has the potential to complement other visions and interpretation of body movement. For example, the Rudolf Laban theories.

LMA (Laban Movement Analysis) provides a rich overview of the scope of movement possibilities. These basic elements can be used for generating movement or for describing movement. They provide an inroad to understanding movement and for developing movement efficiency and expressiveness. Each human being combines these movement factors in his/her own unique way and organizes them to create phrases and relationships which reveal personal, artistic, or cultural style. (Hackney 2002: 237)

The main categories considered by Laban are: Body, Effort, Shape, and Space. Particularly the term Effort reflects the mover’s attitude toward investing energy in four basic factors:  Flow, Weight, Time and Space. (Hackney 2002: 237). Effort can be described as dynamics, qualitative use of energy, texture, color, emotions, inner attitude, etc. There is an ongoing (Flow) sense of self (Weight) in relation to the environment (Space) over time (Time). (Konie, 2011)

2. Potential of physics science towards dance design

What is a force?

It is a stimulus defined by a vector, i.e. an entity having both magnitude and direction (Hoffmann 1966, 14). It is a stimulus that fluctuates in time and space over bodies with certain amount of mass in a certain direction. That is to say, a vector that influences bodies in space-time. Any interaction between two bodies implies forces between them. Forces are categorized according to whether these interactions result from the contact with surfaces of other objects.

Contact forces are named: frictional, tension, normal, applied, elastic, viscosity.
Non-contact forces are known as: electric, magnetic and gravitational.

When a body is dancing, it experiences mechanical stimulus into the field of contact forces plus the gravitational force. To analyze a human body as a system, (that has the potential to manifest / produce / deconstruct a composition of forces) there is a tool named free-body diagram. This depiction shows how several forces influence simultaneously an object, how they balance each other (regarding what coordinate plane the analysis precise to have) and how it is possible to describe features of bodies in a given position.

The assembly of human bodies holding together a common position and the balance of forces shared by them, exhibits an example how this analysis make a contribution to delineate images on dance composition. (See figure 1).

Figure 1
Free Body Diagram. Balance of Forces.
FN (Normal Force), FW (Weight Force)

These parameters define qualities of motion and forces acting with each other. Changing angles, frictions, balance of masses any arrangement can have, for instance, different coincidences, another center of gravity or accelerations to dance with.

The third law of motion of Newton refers to actions and reactions. Basically it states that for every action there is always a reaction with the same magnitude but in opposite direction. It means, as well, that any force has a pair force to respond to it. The action-reaction of forces is determined by the balance of masses (See figure 2). As noted before the acceleration is inversely proportional to the mass (  ) it implies that if a body collides with an object of less mass, for example, its acceleration after the collision will be lesser due to its bigger mass.

Figure 2
Balance of Forces and masses. F1 = F2.
FN (Normal Force), FW (Weight Force)

The human body responds to collisions by interacting with other bodies or surfaces. In general, any development in dance is related with pairs of forces. The reflection of motivating forces has been useful for techniques as Contact Improvisation or Limón. The first is an evolving system of movement initiated in 1972 by American choreographer Steve Paxton. The improvised dance form is based on the communication between two moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia. The body, in order to open to these sensations, learns to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain quality of willfulness to experience the natural flow of movement. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner. (Paxton, 1970)

The Limón technique is divided among various physical extremes: fall and recovery, rebound, weight, suspension, succession and isolation. These ideas can be illustrated in the way a dancer uses the floor as a place from which to rise, return to and then rise from again. The way a dancer explores the range of movement between the one extreme of freedom from gravity and the other of falling into it; for example, the moment of suspension just as the body is at the top of a leap, and the moment the body had fallen completely back to the earth. There are many words and ideas that are immediately associated with the Limón technique, i.e. its humanism, its use of breath, musicality, lyricism and its dramatic qualities; however, the overwhelming consensus is that through the movement is always demonstrated some physical expression of the human spirit. (José Limón Dance Foundation, n.d.).

Mechanical Energy

Many physicist and philosophers have contributed to build the notion of energy. Ancient thinkers as Thales of Miletus (c. 550 BCE) formulated the existence of a substance contained by any object in the universe. Finishing the industrial revolution, by the early 19th century, the measurement of steam engines and properties of heat were extensively studied. Scientists such as Joule, Mayer, Thomson and Helmholtz collaborate, through their own researches, to introduce the concept of energy and its mathematical description.

The term energy was introduced by Thomson in 1852. One of the decisive contribution to the principle of conservation of energy is attributed to Helmholtz. In 1847, Hermann von Helmholtz formulated the principle in his book ‘On the conservation of force’ investigating heat of animal bodies and its mechanical features. His innovation to other statements lies in the relationship between heat and motion (Patton, 2008).

Energy is the axis of physics and it can be defined as the capacity of doing work, and work is commonly considered as the amount of force applied to an object throughout certain amount of space / distance. Briefly, the principle of conservation of energy means that energy cannot be destroyed nor created, just transformed. Any amount of energy involved in a process will vary and influence the bodies implied as a medium through which it can keep traveling in space-time. Any motivation of force will imply a quantity of energy involved.

When a physical system changes its state, from initial conditions to final, there is involved an amount of energy exchanged between the system and the environment. These processes are classified according to the interaction with the surroundings, i.e.:
* Mechanical, when there are changes of mass, area or volume.
* Electromagnetic when changes are in distributions of charges or electric currents, or changes in electromagnetic fields.
* Chemicals, when chemical reactions are triggered, producing changes in molecular composition.
* Thermodynamic when heat flows conditions change pressure, volume and temperature of the system involved.

Human bodies, as a delimited system of study, obey the conservation of energy when they dance in terms of exchange of heat and in particular in terms of mechanical interactions. We transform the amount of chemical energy stored from food into various physiological requirements by organs, tissues and cells. This “catabolic energy” is used to do work on the surroundings (for example running, walking, hiking) and release heat.

Work is a process that flows between a transmitter and a receptor of forces, so that the object that receives the work gains energy. When a dancer pulls another body across the room, when a human body lifts an object from the floor to the top, or when a crane lifts objects, several sorts of energy are implied to supply the required force to do the work. This amount of energy gained by the receptor is was is called mechanical energy.

There are two possibilities for bodies to exchange this type of energy: by motion (Kinetic energy) or by rest, namely, position (potential energy). When a human body moves it carries kinetic energy in terms of its mass and the amount of velocity, and when a body holds a position, for instance related with a point at certain height, it spares a quantity of gravitational potential energy.

Movement manifests these laws and properties of matter and transform them into aesthetic experiences emitted to an audience. Through dance, the materialization of experiments, formulae and the history of science, takes one of its most sublimes forms.

3. Artistic pieces on the bridge
Communicating physics through dance and performance

fuse* - Art & Design Factory - develops projects of artistic installation complementing architecture, technological innovation, interaction, visual and sound design.

Some of their works are based on scientific concepts. The audiovisual installation called Independent Frequencies is inspired on Helmholtz concepts of harmonics and the theory of timbre, then they generate an interactive installation where sound and architecture construct dynamic environments. The performance piece N 4.0 is an interactive multimedia performance based on the real-time interaction between sound, movement and light. The perspective of the visuals alter on the basis of where the performance takes place. The graphics are modified simultaneously on the basis of sound frequencies and the instantaneous analysis of the dancer’s movements (fuse, 2014).

Another representative piece to mention is ‘Dance vs. Powerpoint, a Modest Proposal’ by John Bohannon & Black Label Movement at TEDxBrussels (Bohannon, 2011). This conference in motion presents the role of dance in another instance. It states the human body and the connection with physics using the potential of dance to explain a scientific concept to the audience. Expressions such as ‘photons moving randomly through the space’ or ‘in superfluids the atoms lose their individual identity and the rules of the quantum world take over’, are embodied by a conjunction of collisions, rhythms and gestures. They pursue to innovate in the performance field and to bring to the public a fresh perspective of science. (See figure 3).


Figure 3
Dance Your PhD
John Bohannon & Black Label Movement
by TEDxBrussels. 2011

Figure 4
Dance and lighting installation Artistic residency - Collide@CERN. Gilles Jobin. 2012

The dance composition QUANTUM was part of the Collide@CERN-Geneva residency at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and developed by Gilles Jobin. This composition was created in collaboration with groups of CERN physicists, light & sound artists, and dancers to manifest an artistic impression of quantum mechanics. Specifically, Jobin ‘explores through interventions and dance the relationship between mind and body at the world’s largest particle physics laboratory.’ (CERN Accelerating Science, 2011). (See figure 4).

Conclusion: After building the bridge

On the bridge between disciplines, it is possible to bring towards people other interpretation of scientific notions and their mathematical relations. Simultaneously, it is possible to complement dance explorations with analysis and discoveries from scientists.  Using this connection, a new creative field with crisscrossed insights stimulates innovative processes of dancers, artists and designers.

One of the lessons in the physics courses of quantum mechanics, was a morning class where the mathematical conclusion led to the equation of the quantum harmonic oscillator. In short, this means that when a particle is confined, the ground state of the energy (the lowest achievable energy) is not equal to zero.

In contrast with classical mechanics, which predicts that the energy  of a linear harmonic oscillator can have any value, we see from the equation:

That its quantum mechanics energy spectrum consists of an infinite sequence of discrete levels. For any finite eigenvalue the particle is bound. The energy levels are equally spaced and are similar to those discovered in 1900 by Planck for the radiation field modes. This is due the fact that a decomposition of the electromagnetic field into normal modes is essentially a decomposition into uncoupled harmonic oscillators. We notice, however, that according to the previous equation the linear harmonic oscillator even in its lowest state (  ), has energy . (Bransden, B. H., C. J. Joachain, and B. H. Bransden 2000: 174).

In this sense, matter never stops, particles are vibrating constantly. In the deepest emptiness, there is always movement, this is the poetry of dance. The dance of matter.


Bransden, B. H., C. J. Joachain, and B. H. Bransden (2000), Quantum Mechanics, Harlow, England: Prentice Hall.

Bohannon, John (2011). Dance vs. Powerpoint, a Modest Proposal, TED. Retrieved 10 May 2015 from

CERN Accelerating Science (2011), Gilles Jobin Collide@CERN Geneva Award Winner. Retrieved 19 July 2015 from

Fuse (2011), N 4.0. Retrieved 08 May 2015 from

Hackney, Peggy (2002), Making Connections: Total Body Integration through Bartenieff Fundamentals. New York: Routledge.

Hoffmann, Banesh (1966). About Vectors. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Jahnke, H. N. (2003), A History of Analysis. Providence, RI: American Mathematical Society.

José Limón Dance Foundation n.d., "Limón technique". Retireved 05 June 2015 from

Konie, Robin (2011), A brief overview of Laban movement analysis, Movement has meaning. Retireved 05 June 2015 from

Patton, Lydia (2008), Hermann Von Helmholtz, Stanford University. Stanford University. Retrieved 16 July 2015 from

Paxton, Steve (2014), About Contact Improvisation (CI), Contact Quarterly. Retrieved 08 June 2015 from

Pregrad, Sonja. "Oh My Body, If Only You Were Here with Me Now..."Bewegungstexte”   1.1, 2012. Print. p. 11.

Schutz, Bernard F (2003), Gravity from the Ground up, Cambridge: Cambridge UP. 

Monday, November 26, 2012


Jesienna Scena Tańca
Festival of Small Movement Art

Gryfino – Poland
November (16 - 18.11.12)

Melissa Palacio Lopez


G A L A X I S is an interdisciplinary project based on the physical phenomena of galaxies. The central themes are the result of analyzing forces which influence the behavior of matter and following the birth of the universe from its very first moments. We explore the separation of a unified embryonic force into what we recognize today. These forces make the “dance of matter” in a stark and harmonic awakening which candidly follows physical laws and recreates the fundamental source of cosmoses. From a timeless and spaceless nothing until an eventual and complex self-conscience.


  • Original Music: Kwaszak, composer and music producer (Poland)
  • Camera, costume: Lorena Vivient, visual artist (Chile)
  • Video edition: Santiago Betancur, fine artist (Colombia)
  • Software development and cocreation: Brett Richardson, Software developer (New Zeland)
  • Choreography, cocreation and direction: Melissa Palacio, dancer and Physics Engineer (Colombia)


Exploring particles in emptiness, enclosed points without route, things lost to movement before the discovery of space.
Colorful and gentle but hardy and firm; rhythym gives the body a new perspective in new grounds. Through the eyes of velocity, fields disrupt something lonesome and it revolves about axes.
A docile cloud, bustles in search of itself. These layered phenomena fall into separate forces. Just drain away with your tiny limbs, your dinky properties into wild space. Here dust and matter rains.
Take a rest and flow between the dust and brilliant soft elements will carry you; will carry your worries, your silence, your loneliness. Present yourself to your own gods and trust, trust, trust.
The winds anoint you, you blessed being. Don't be a part of this; let it go. Be awake in pieces again. Perceive a dance in the many great scales of time.
Discover your skin, your persitance and remain in a most basic state. Your harmonic movement, a simple movement to unknowing places, is perhaps lost and you must flirt and flick your consciousness through channels.
Matter of your own, oh Mother Galaxis, flee in lunatic spirals, in dust, in elipses and cinders. The effect of your physicality becomes you and your nature; wild and proud. Are you consciouss? Live through the force of ancient spirits and wisdom. Convert your own, leap and transform yourself. Join the others.

Be glad, later gods will laugh with you and you will be absorbed in flawless nothing…
So don´t be afraid of darkness, even light may not escape.
And surely, you are full of light and nonsense.