Classes and rehearsals are keeping me busy, just the way I like it, and while we are four weeks into spring semester I feel as if no time has passed. (It’s true, time flies when you’re having fun.) What I find interesting is that in this semester I have learned the same concept articulated throughout separate courses. This concept is kinesthetic empathy. And because it is something I have learned about multiple times now, from different teachers’ perspectives, kinesthetic empathy is on my mind as I learn, create, and watch movement.
I first learned about kinesthetic empathy in Writing Dance, my second-year writing course taught by Melanie Bales. She first mentioned the topic as we were viewing dance videos, as she asked us to notice our kinesthetic empathy as we watched different pieces. After asking what it was, I learned that kinesthetic empathy is the body’s physical, mental and emotional response to watching movement. It is when your body feels as if it is participating alongside the mover, even when it is not.
Kinesthetic empathy created another discussion in Pilates Reformer 1, taught by Christina Providence, when she asked us to notice our own kinesthetic responses when watching our peers. While three students worked on the reformers, the rest of the class watched their practice of Pilates and tracked how it was mirrored in ourselves. In this class I begun to better understand kinesthetic empathy physically because I my body would relax as the reformer-worker practiced. And as they used their breath, more often than not I would find myself breathing along with them.
In contemporary technique with Susan Petry, we learned that kinesthetic empathy helps us to understand what we are being taught in class. We mirror what the teacher does to learn combinations, and our kinesthetic responses to their movements help us to better understand the motions on our own bodies.
Kinesthetic empathy made another appearance in my Psychology 1100 course while we learned about functioning neurons in the brain. Taught by Maggie Mehling, in this neuroscience-specific lecture we learned about the mirror neurons in our brains that are built to mimic the movements and emotions surrounding us. My teacher used mirror neurons to explain why we may cry at a sad movie, but this lecture once again got me thinking about kinesthetic empathy in regards to dance. Through this class I got to know where kinesthetic empathy comes from.
And throughout all of these classes this oh-so-important topic of movement understanding has come up more than once. While I have just told my first experiences with kinesthetic empathy in my courses, it is a topic that I will continue to explore as the semester continues. Kinesthetic empathy can help me to understand why dance has such a visceral connection with its viewers, and it is a gateway to connecting my movement to a world outside of my own body.