Long-Term Memory for Contemporary Dance is Distributed and Collaborative

Catherine Stevens, Kim Vincs, Scott Delahunta, Elizabeth Old

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    11 Citations (Scopus)
    89 Downloads (Pure)


    Professional dancers appear to be the embodied records of works of choreography that have been created, rehearsed and performed. Their precision in recalling extended sequences of movement developed for these works defies the conventional methods used to investigate memory. A distributed cognition view holds that memory will not only be individualistic, but also extended across a dance ensemble. Working closely with the highly skilled dancers of Australian Dance Theatre (ADT), we set out to develop an ecologically valid method that elicited memory recall and lapsing. Dancers were divided into two “teams” with each team asked to choose excerpts for memory recall from the company's extensive repertoire that would challenge individual dancers in the other team. There were 14 trials; 12 involved the dancers recalling dance excerpts on their own (solo condition) and 2 with a partner (duet condition). In the ADT studio, seven dancers recalled (reproduced) as much of the excerpt as possible in the absence of an accompanying soundscape. Recall was extensive, but contained lapses, and these recall failures form the core of the analysis in this study. Four novel types of memory recall were identified: static shapes, isolated movements, partial and full movement sequences; and two strategies for recall: looking for movement by moving and collaborative sketching. Four types of errors were observed: errors of detail, order, omission, and additions. Analysis was conducted through a new method of counting ‘choreographic items’. The most detailed recall (73–96%) was for the two duet excerpts with significantly poorer recall of excerpts from complex group sections of a dance. Movement gist was generally retained. The types of recall and types of errors observed pointed to the use of not only procedural memory and chaining but also contextual cues as aids to movement recall. Collaborative elements of recall were observed that suggest the importance of distributed cognition and collective memory within a contemporary dance ensemble.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)17-27
    Number of pages11
    JournalActa Psychologica
    Early online date29 Jan 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2019


    • Distributed cognition
    • Expertise
    • Improvisation
    • Motor learning
    • Recall

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
    • Developmental and Educational Psychology
    • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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