Dance is hardly a new subject to be discussed in philosophy. From Plato’s Laws, through John Locke’s Some Thoughts concerning Education, through Hegel’s Aesthetics and Nietzsche’s manifold dance writings, to more contemporary philosophers such as Alain Badiou and Jacques Derrida, dance has been long discussed by the most known names in our Western philosophical canon. At the same time, within philosophy departments and courses, dance is far from being treated as a main stream research topic. However, publication of monographs and collections, such as the one discussed below, hopefully will aid in resolving this unexplainable tension.

The collection of essays is divided into four parts. Dancers and people dancing, dance works and their performances, dance expression and representation, dance and philosophy/ dance as philosophy. The contributors, too, are varied, from Jonathan Owen Clark and Henrietta Bannerman, to Efrosini Protopapa (London based choreographer). Indeed, the different specialties of the authors increase the strength of the book, illuminating the diversity dance has as a subject.

The introduction argues well for the structure of the book, as well as presents its underlying motivations and problematics. Looking at the development of dance studies as well as the philosophical positions towards dance presented in the volume provide a helpful vista for the reader to enter the book and is a worthwhile piece of reading in itself.

The first section discusses the tension between embodiment and humanity within dance. The importance of the singular, embodied dancer  in the creation of dance as a Work of Art is considered in the context of notable dance theorists (such as Susan Foster and Dee Reynolds) as well as philosophers dealing with embodiment (such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Pierre Bordieux). The question of embodiment[1] is contemporary and urgent one in philosophy and all essays in the first section add an important layer to this discussion. As Gennes notes, we need material [2]in order to dance.

The second section discusses the tension between dance as a work and dance as performance. From the idea of a Platonist ontology of dance (Pakes), to questions of notation and the canon and interpretation of performance in ballet, accentuating the role interpretation has in a ballet performance (discussed in Geraldine Morris’ forceful essay), this section highlights the tension between the work and its performance, a singular instance and its replicable nature.

The third section discusses tension between representation and expression, looking at themes such as perception and reception contra performance, physicality of the dance and the metaphysical nature of its enduring effect in terms of reception, to Owen Clark’s  suggestion to move to a phenomenological approach to significance of dance, in which he argues for  a Husserl inspired reading on visual and kinaesthetic components of perception, linking it to the work of Maxine Sheets- Johnston on the tactile kinaesthetic process of reception.

The fourth and last section looks at the way dance has been discussed in philosophy and attempts to read dance as philosophy. From Badiou’s seminal reading of Nietzsche’s dance metaphors in his Handbook of Inaesthetics, to Nietzsches’s own writing and its influence on dance[3], to Nicholas’ discussion of Casey’s theory of imagination when applied to dance, through a discussion of Modernism in dance and finally, Protopapa’s essay attempting to present the practice of dance in itself as a philosophical instance.

The strength of the book lies in its diversity and rich array of subject matters. Managing to bring together different conversations within the world of dance, the book draws on each contributor’s strength and aligns their discussions with a very broadly termed common theme: the relationship between dance and philosophy. The essays accordingly vary in discursive presentation, managing to appeal to various audiences simultaneously; from philosophers, to dance writers, to dance scholars, to practitioners. It is a very ambitious  goal to edit a book on “dance and philosophy” broadly construed and it seems that this approach, which pins down the essays very weakly only in terms of this  connection, has managed to  create a fascinating collection. At the same time, it is very helpful  indeed to divide the book into its four sections, since at times it seems that essays in various parts of the book have very little in common. Those narrowly defined essays allow the editors to create internal conversations between the essays and that is very helpful indeed.

The book is well presented and easily approachable, easy to work within and hard to put down when introduced to the underlying problematics of the four section.

Last, this book leaves us with a query and a wish. The book looks at dance and philosophy and draws upon the strength and knowledge of dance practitioners and scholars. At the same time, it remains for us to hope that audiences NOT from the world of dance will be drawn into this world as a result  of this book, and others like it. All questions discussed are burning questions in contemporary philosophical discourse. It is left for us to ask why philosophers so scarcely turn to dance for answers, and to wish that following this book they indeed do so. It is a wonderful and brave initiative to bring all those very different conversations into one volume, which at the same time presents the rich body of knowledge dance has to offer to the world of philosophy, and its relationship to core issues troubling the world of philosophy. Let us hope philosophers indeed accept the invitation and join the dance.

Dana Mills

19th March 2014

Jenny Bunker, Anna Pakes and Bonnie Rowell (eds), 2013  Thinking through dance: the philosophy of dance performance and practices  Hampshire: Dance Books Ltd.

291 Pp, ISBN 978-1-85273-165-6


Order this from Dance Books Ltd. here





[1] See, for instance, Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost, the New Materiliasms, two books which signify the turn to embodiment in political philosophy and engage embodied practices extensively.

[2] My emphasis DM.

[3] See for instance Kimerer Lamothe’s Nieztsche’s Dances, an in-depth study of the reception of Nietzsche in Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham).