domingo, novembro 16, 2014

Dancers are beings for themselves

 The question of self and body have been largely discussed in philosophy. This question addresses what makes up an individual and which characteristics are essential for a subject to be and act like a person. Some follow the Cartesian dualism view, in which the mind is argued to be better known than the body, since the mind is our essence and the body is simply our property (1). While others such as Evans and Sartre argue that the body is the factual part of ourselves, and therefore constitute a persons identity and self-awareness, the way individuals act on their body is intrinsically connected to how the body acts on the world, this unity expresses a view of living and experiencing reality from inside and therefore intimately relating body with mind (2). Body is the existing part of ourselves, the physical condition for someone to be in this reality, while the mind is the intrinsic and non factual part of the self. Both ways of analyzing and experiencing the body are valuable, but only the phenomenological theory, the incorporation of mind and body as one, gives room to the proprioception that ballet dancers must have in order to grow into the field of dance. 

 According to Melo, a well known pedagogue from South America, body awarness emerges as the most complex and most refined level of the organization and notion of the body (3). Following this line of taught the French writter Theresa Bertherat claims “Our body are we. It is our only perceptual reality. It isn't opposed to our intelligence, feeling or soul. It includes and shelter it. Therefore, to become aware of our own body is to have access to our entire being... since, body, spirit, psychic, and even strength and weakness, represent not the duality of being but its unity.” (4). This unity of body and mind is essential to any progress in dance since it is preciselly this unity that is the tool to become a good dancer, since a dancer is aware of itself as well as of its body. It is possible, according to the specialists cited above, to have propioception as an integration of the elements that constitute the being, and the sapience of itself as well as of the constitutions of this unity. The notion of the physical body will be developed further, and being related to the contribution of ballet to the improvement of perception of this integration.  

 Ballet is a integral corporal activity, it stands out since it labors all of the muscles in the body, within movements of distention or contraction, developing a major notion of the existing relationship between the parts of the body. Due to its wholeness ballet gives room to the understanding of how the position of the feet influences the posture, the corporal message that is transmitted and the limits of its own body.  While descovering the functions of parts of the body that are usually ignored, the dancer becomes aware of how the exercise of a certain area of the body is intrinsically related to the other parts, that aren't necessarilly close to each other, which consequently leads the individual to acquire a better understanding of its body as one, as a series of correlated unities that are co-dependents. For exemple, while positioning the sholders in the correct form in order to execute an exercise of legs sustent, the dancer acquires more lightness in the movement as well as less tension in the lumbar, following less pain. This body awareness is essential to a good dancer, and it comes gradually since the dancer is, in philosophical terms, a being for itself.

 For Sartre, a person can see themselves in two distinct ways. A person that is a “being for itself”(5) is a self consciousness being that see their self and body as dependent parts of the same whole. It is a type of consciousness that acts self-reflectively and have self-consciousness, therefore is free and able to transcend the duality of mind and body as a separation, this is due to awareness of both   unity and of the material world. Another scholar, Shoemaker, characterizes this type of self, as beings that find no need for introspection (6), the perceiver is aware of themselves by being aware of the objects, a per-reflectively awareness of world is what carries an awareness of self and consequently of mind. This type of individual is intentionally aware of objects and therefore more capable of controlling their actions and desires, in the case of a dancer, it is a individual that controls it's body to a degree that it is capable of doing things that the majority ignore. The self in this case isn't a reflection of the mind, but instead the mind in its material form, and therefore is a self-governing type of being, that is conscious of their material state, consequently it is able to govern it's body independently of what the norms are. On the other hand, a person that is a “being in itself” is a person filled with self , it considers itself as something given to them rather then a part of their being, and therefore don't have much control or power to govern their material state, its objective is simply to be what it is, or to fit in without self-consciousness. In this later case, the body is simply used by the mind, or the property of mind, or even more philosophically, it is a product of the environment; and therefore it is a debodified type of consciousness, or in a Hegelian term a 'alienated' (7) type of being, in which their actions aren't seen as themselves but instead as part of themselves. Which is nothing like the unity that ballet dancers must have in order to control their body.

  The comprehension of body is something that depends on practice and on repetition of certain movements so that the discernment of the effects of the different alterations can be interiorized, reflected upon, and materialized on stage. The more frequent the exercises of body in motion, that pursues the full development of the body, such as ballet, the quicker it is for the mind to assimilate the execution and the effects of itself. The same way, the more time dedicated to the activity, the more easy it is to perform the execution of the movements. As observed by Barbara Pereira, a ballarina from Brazil “In ballet classes it is very interesting to note how you become a balarina, it is clear the body awareness, the body limits and how much one can require from its body, of how the body learns and how much it learns, and allows one to have purpose to try harder with the development; one can also see how the perception of space improves, with propioception, one start to know more about the surroundings.” (8) This starts with the required space to perform the correct execution of a step, and evolves to the complete dance, and even further, to the space that the body require in any other dailly activity. Experiencing the body as one, or improving propioception through dance, allows individuals to see themselves as rulers over their body as thinking things, their body isn't seen as solely subject of experience but also as possessors of states of mind in which the body is a essential element and must be controlled from the inside. 

 Dance can contribute to the development of many different aspects of an individual, not only to the transcendence of the dualist ideology but also to coordination, lateralization, internalization, awareness of body segments, temporal and spatial perception. Therefore one can see that it isn't an activity merely for entertainment, for sports or artistic – even tough all of these assertions are truth. Dance in general and specially Ballet seek more then only an improvement of the physical activity, but it is also concerned with the individuals consciousness of itself and of its body. With the refinement of the notion of the body, it becomes possible to aspire even more. When knowing the functioning of the body the individual is able to perceive themselves, and for that reason seek to solve different reactions or physical states of themselves. Knowing the common behavior of your body, one can distinguish the days when it is more sensitive, more painful, what foods give greater feeling of heaviness, the effects of sleep deprivation, the effects of heavy exercise; ie, small changes that might pass unnoticed or whose consequences were not fully understood. Once the body and it's changes are better understood one can see that some conditions of the mind can also affect the body such as fatigue, anxiety, exhaustion which are examples of states of mind that are reflected in the body. Therefore different aspects of reality can be better understood and resolved by the unity of mind and body as one, which is what ballet pursue, not only the physical development of the dancer but also the development of the dancer itself and of its relation to the external world. 
 The transcendence of seeing the body as a given mechanism, to seeing it as an opportunity of action, is central in order to achieve mindfulness and self control, it is also central to be a good dancer and to relate better to ones body in space. An activity that is able to not only develop the physical conditions of the individual but also to integrate mind and body is an activity that is integral and therefore highlly recommended to all individuals. The way of seing the body as a property rather then as ourselves is a alienated way of living and must be overcome for anything to be concrete in this reality, development and evolution are only possible when the body is our effective selves and therefore this way of experiencing reality must be stimulated and encouraged dispite of gender, race or aptitude.


(1) Levine, Steven. "Phil 381." Class Notes on Strawson. UMB, Boston. Mar. 2014. Lecture.
(2) Evans, Gareth. "Commentary upon Strawson's Individuals." Things without the Mind. Print
(3) Melo, Jose Pereira. Development of the corporal consciousness: an experience of physical education in the pre-school age. Sao Paulo. UNICAMP,1997
(4) Bertherat, The?re?se. The Body Has Its Reasons: Self Awareness through Conscious Movement. N.p.: n.p., 1989. Print. 
(5) Sartre, Jean-Paul. "Chapter 2 - The Body." Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Philosophical Library, 1956.
(6) Shoemaker, Sydney. "Introspection and the Self." 121. Print
(7) Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. The Phenomenology of Mind. London: Routledge, 2002. Print.
(8) Pereira, Barbara. Personal Statement.

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