Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments: Dance-Based Approaches to Data

Lead Research Organisation: Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
Department Name: Faculty


While dancers and dance scholars understand movement and gesture to be sites of knowledge production, the field of dance history has been reluctant to adopt data-driven analytic methods, which are presumed to be dematerializing and reductive. Grounded in the specific needs of dance scholarship, 'Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments' engages with emerging digital techniques and technologies from the perspective of dance-based knowledge practices, with the aim to develop a methodology of 'visceral data analysis' that explicitly focuses on data drawn from and reflective of bodily experience. The Fellow's previous collaborative research pioneered the application of scalable digital methods to the field of dance history; this new work focuses on the adaptation of data-driven research to the medium of dance that serves to enable this broader paradigm shift. The new methodology of visceral data analysis will offer an interdisciplinary approach to the challenge of analyzing moving bodies as subjects of data-driven historical inquiry, which will further benefit all fields that grapple with maintaining the complexity of bodies when they are represented as data.

'Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments' draws together individuals and ideas from dance studies, artistic research in dance-technology, archival science, museology, digital humanities, critical data studies, human computer interaction, visual communication, and data science. The Fellow will engage in a three-phase programme of research with Collaborating Organizations and Project Partners, including museums and archives exploring digital innovation (the San-Francisco-based Museum of Dance; the Harry Ransom Center in Austin, Texas; the National Archives of Data on Arts and Culture; The National Archives), emerging technology and design centres at two US universities (Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design at The Ohio State University and Augmented Environments Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology), and community dance stakeholders (the US-based Institute for Dunham Technique Certification). In the process, the Fellow will build international peer networks of interdisciplinary and intersectoral interlocutors and develop research leadership by mentoring and inspiring innovative research, including among next generation ECRs. These substantive knowledge exchanges will provide access to technical domain knowledge and resources, enabling the Fellow to address the conceptual and technological challenges of developing data-driven analytic approaches tailored to the medium of dance. Collaborators will benefit from new insights into the qualitative dimensions of visceral data, including what such data may feel like, and how these feelings can translate into palpable visual arguments for historical dance data in the form of digital visualizations and immersive experiences that are guided by choreographic principles.
The Fellow will convene a bi-monthly Visceral Data Discussion Group to establish an interdisciplinary community of practice and shared vocabulary, and ultimately set the trajectory of future research in visceral data analysis. Findings will be disseminated through an edited collection of essays and additional digital and print peer-reviewed publications, including a dataset, an essay, and a research blog, and through scholarly and cultural industries presentations and networking opportunities, and two interactive digital installations. The Fellow will be mentored by an internal mentor who has a track record of leading data-driven research in theatre history, an external CLORE mentor who specializes in arts leadership, and by senior advisors drawn from Partner organizations. Collaboration will provide pathways to impact for Project Partners in the cultural sector to develop and enhance their own practices and ways of working by centering dance-based knowledge in technological innovation, and making dance's historical archives more accessible to broader publics.


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Description Creative AI Grant for Artificial Intelligence for Creative Movement Analysis and Synthesis: Overcoming racial bias in algorithms for spinal motion tracking in Black dance performance capture.
Amount $44,800 (USD)
Funding ID PI Harmony Bench 
Organisation Ohio State University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United States
Start 01/2023 
Description Moving Data is a historical data/design consultancy founded in order to hold museum and other commissions resulting from the model of dance historical data curation, analysis, and visualization developed under Dunham's Data, with further research and development conducted under Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments. 
Year Established 2022 
Impact Moving Data is currently finalizing the contract for its first commission with the Whitney Museum of American Art. This is for visualizations that will be exhibited in the upcoming Whitney museum exhibition on choreographer Alvin Ailey, opening in September 2024, plus included in the exhibition catalogue. This provides an opportunity to test the proposition that such methods can change public understandings of dance history. Research conducted in conjunction with this commission is drawing on the in-house archives of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre and the unprocessed collection at the Library of Congress, and will have further impacts with regard to these collections.
Description Full List of Public Talks Related to Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact October 2023 - German Society for Dance Research and German Dance Archive Cologne, (Virtual) Ecologies in the Field of Dance (Germany)
February 2023 - National Archive of Data on Arts and Culture/ICPSR, Love Data Week, Ann Arbor (US)
February 2023 - National Dance Education Organization (US)
January 2023 - Body and AI Lecture Series, C-Dare, Coventry University (UK)
December 2022 - UPES School of Liberal Arts, International Conference on Digital Humanities, Dehradun (India)
November 2022 - Newberry Library, Smith Center for the History of Cartography, Kenneth Nebenzahl Jr. Lectures in the History of Cartography, Chicago (US)
October 2022 - Dance Studies Association, Vancouver (Canada)
June 2022 - Movement Computing, Chicago (US)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022,2023