The Choreo-haptic project: Haptic device as choreographic medium: Multi-modal communication conference

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Can dance audiences access the viewing experience of dance without using their sense of vision? Can we ‘see’ dance in other ways? These are important questions in relation to how new technologies can enhance blind people’s access to dance performances and support them to experience a different way of attending dance.

The Choreo-haptic project explores how blind dance audience members can use their hands to experience the dynamic qualities of live dance performances through their sense of touch. The technological arrangement used in this project is as follows: Blind users place their palms and fingers on a pad and receive vibrations which aim to make them feel aspects of the movement, such as softness or circular patterns, while dancers perform live. The popular technology of Microsoft Kinect was used to track the dancers’ movement in the first prototype of this project (which was developed between February and August 2012), while small size vibrating motors embedded in a pad responded real-time to the data received from the Kinect. The project is currently in its second phase and it is necessary to replace the Kinect with a different tool such as Xtion, due to the fact that Microsoft recently blocked access to the Kinect code. In terms of the haptic technology, the next step will be a wireless version of the current haptic pad.

While still in its infancy, the Choreo-haptic has generated very enthusiastic responses amongst blind participants who tested it, but also amongst a few sighted users who enjoyed touching it with their eyes closed and focusing on various sounds emerging from the movement of the dancers. Once fully developed, the new device could offer blind people a much better access to the experience of viewing dance, than the traditional method of audio description, which is currently used to support them. There is also potential for haptic devices which relate to the communication of the experience of other types of movement outside the theatre stage, as well as for theatre-based and site specific choreographic experiments. The interdisciplinary research team includes dance and education researchers in collaboration with information technology specialists, advisors on issues of blindness, as well as several blind participants who test the technology and dance students and professional dancers who provide the movement material for the tests.

An important principle in this research is that the haptic device is not understood as a translation device - it does not translate dance movements for blind audience members. Instead it aims to create an experience for blind persons, which is equivalent to that received by sighted members of the dance audience. To achieve this, the haptic device is conceptualised as a performance space in which dynamic events (equivalent to those in the actual performance space – but not necessarily similar in a visual sense) take place. In this way, the haptic device becomes a choreographic medium and the haptic interface, which aims to communicate certain aspects of the experience of dance performance via touch, should be designed correctly to fully engage the user via their sense of touch.

But which aspects of the viewing experience of dance could be communicated via touch? The project is heavily informed by recent debates about the importance of kinaesthetic empathy for dance audiences (Reynolds and Reason, 2012). According to Foster (2011) the term empathy was introduced by German aestheticians in the late 19th century, who wanted to emphasise the physical connection between viewer and artwork. In John Martin’s (1939) interpretation, kinaesthetic empathy has an emotional impact on the viewer because it encourages dance audiences to respond kinaesthetically by experiencing internally the movements they watch, as well as their associated emotions. Neurophysiologists proposed the theory of mirror neurons as a scientific explanation for this phenomenon and suggested that such neurons get activated in the same way they would if the viewer was performing the movements they watch (Rizzolatti & Craighero, 2004). Given all of the above, this project explores to which extent it is possible for blind dance audience members to experience effects of kinaesthetic empathy despite their lack of vision.

Foster, S.L. (2011) Choreographing Empathy: Kinesthesia in Performance, Routledge
Martin, J. (1939) Introduction to the Dance, New York: Dance Horizons.
Reynolds, D., & Reason, M. (eds) (2012) Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, Bristol, UK: Intellect.
Rizzolatti, G., Craighero, L. (2004). The mirror neuron system. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27, 169–192.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2 May 2013
EventMultimodal Communication: Language, Performance and Digital Media - Lisbon, Portugal
Duration: 2 May 20134 May 2013


ConferenceMultimodal Communication: Language, Performance and Digital Media


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