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Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking

Authors:

Abstract

This paper tells the story of a journey of inquiry, which has turned into a journey of research, through the lens of collaborative autoethnographic work, connecting work lives, private lives, dance lives, a journey in time (nearly two decades) but also in spaces (dancefloors, universities, other organisations). It connects dance competitions with organisational life, dance performance with organisational performance, leader-follower-ship on the dancefloor with leader-follower-ship in organisations (Matzdorf 2005, Matzdorf & Sen 2005, Matzdorf & Sen 2014), but also reflection on dance with reflection on work and reflection on relationships in general (and how to make them work). The authors describe and reflect upon layers of mutual influence between work, life in organizations and dance.
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 1 of 8
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography,
embodiment and sensemaking
Paper for the 10th Annual Liverpool Ethnography Symposium, 26-28 August 2015, University of
Liverpool
Fides Matzdorf, Sheffield Business School, f.matzdorf@shu.ac.uk
Ramen Sen, HSCIC, NHS Leeds, sen.ramen@gmail.com
1. Introduction
This is the story of a journey of inquiry, which has now turned into a journey of research. This
journey is quite messy and personal, as is the ensuing story – but that is also part of its fascination
and strength. It is multi-dimensional, encompassing two work lives, a shared private life, a shared
dance life, a journey in time (nearly two decades so far) but also in spaces (dancefloors,
universities, other organisations). It connects dance competitions with organisational life, dance
performance with organisational performance, leader-follower-ship on the dancefloor with leader-
follower-ship in organisations (Matzdorf 2005, Matzdorf & Sen 2005, Matzdorf & Sen 2014), but
also reflection on dance with reflection on work and reflection on relationships in general (and how
to make them work).
Thought bubble
1
(Fides):
Writing this paper turns out to be really difficult – I keep losing track, can’t structure my thoughts, and
keep coming (back?) to a point where I don’t know what I’m actually trying to say…
After various reiterations, here is where I got to:
This is not a neatly structured paper about a research approach/strategy/methodology. It’s about
the confusion I’m in, trying to write a research proposal for my PhD application.
Every time I follow another reference and look at another paper, I go ‘ahhhhh….’ – it usually opens
up another perspective, clarifies or explains something I’d felt unsure or muddled about. It also
changes what I’ve been thinking, and I need to add something to my paper, or make changes.
WHEN WILL THIS END? Or is this the ‘never-ending paper’? How do papers ever end???
I keep reordering paragraphs and thoughts – but every time I do it, something else doesn’t fit. See
questions above.
All I know is that this is about autoethnography (yes, I think that’s what my co-author and I are
doing), embodiment (a lot of our learning and ‘knowledge creation’ happens on our feet and/or in
close bodily contact and/or through doing), and sensemaking (yeah, well, it sort of happens, but not
always in the way I would expect it to!). How these things hang together or not is not entirely clear
yet.
The boundaries between research and experience, between work life and life outside work,
between categories and entities such as ‘me as a dancer’, ‘we as a dance team’, ‘me as a
researcher’, ‘we as a research team’, ‘me as a working person’ sometimes become so fuzzy and
blurred that they are almost indistinguishable. It is difficult to keep enough ‘distance to reflect’ – and
difficult to find a methodological approach that covers all this and helps to make sense of a wealth
of felt, sensed, experienced data, as well as the multi-level reflections on those data – which
sometimes become data themselves: a process of hermeneutic reiteration.
So I wonder just how much I need to apologise for the muddle… or not? If there’s a neatly
structured, ordered, tidy way of writing about muddles, please let me know! Answers on a postcard,
please…
Since things aren’t neatly structured, I’ve put in those ‘thought bubbles’, documenting the struggle
to find the ‘right’ methodology.
...erm, actually,
is
there one???
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 2 of 8
2. Methodology
Given that our research evolved ‘organically’ from our learning, reflection and inquiry with regard to
our dancing as well as our professional lives, it is perhaps not surprising that our methodology is
nearly as messy as life itself!
Unlike ‘traditional’ ethnographers, we did not start out as researchers, immersing ourselves into a
culture – we were already part of it when we decided to look at it through a research lens. So
strictly speaking, we are not participant observers, but observing participants. Is there a difference?
Does this pose different questions of research ethics, if we attend dance lessons and competitions
and then write down our observations, or take notes of what others have said or done, at times
without letting them know? As amateurs and active dancesport competitors, we also have to
ensure that we are not trespassing on ‘professional ground’ – in England, where we mostly
compete, amateurs are, for example, not allowed to teach any form of dancing. To our knowledge,
there are no regulations banning dancers from using their own experiences for academic research,
and none of our analytic, interpretive or theorising work, or our workshops, are teaching anyone to
dance.
One of the challenges and sometimes difficulties is the fact that we are both researchers and
subjects within this process (Ellis et al 2011). The boundaries between research and experience,
between work life and life outside work, between categories and entities such as ‘me as a dancer’,
‘we as a dance team’, ‘me as a researcher’, ‘we as a research team’, ‘me as a working person’
sometimes become so fuzzy and blurred that they are almost indistinguishable. It is difficult to keep
enough ‘distance to reflect’ – and difficult to find a methodological approach that covers all this and
helps to make sense of a wealth of felt, sensed, experienced data, as well as the multi-level
reflections on those data – which sometimes become data themselves: a process of
(hermeneutic?) reiteration.
In terms of Ellis et al’s classification (2011) we see our story as reflexive and co-constructed. In
some ways we do seem to fit into the “analytical ethnography” strand more than into “evocative
ethnography” (Anderson 2006), because we conceptualise, contextualise, analyse… but on the
Thought bubble
2
(Fides):
What causes me a bit of a problem is the notion of ‘insider’. If one of the purposes of ethnography is to “provide an
“insider’s perspective”, what happens if you're not a proper 'insider' anywhere?? What if you’re an ‘oddball’, on the
edge of the group – a member but not ‘properly’ integrated?
What you get is an ‘insider-but-not-quite-insider’ view – is that an advantage or a disadvantage? How much ‘inside-
ness’ is required so that you honestly say that this is ethnography? But then there are always degrees of ‘inside-
ness’, whether or not you are a researcher.
The other thing that nags me is the fact that I haven’t really been open about my research interest within the
competition scene – only told one good friend. As individuals and as a couple, we are ‘odd’ enough as is, and I don’t
want to jeopardise our chances as competitors. In fact, I am not even sure whether this snippet should be included
in anything that might be available in the public domain. I’ve got a very recognisable name, and there’s no such
thing as privacy on the internet… On the other hand, there is such a thing as research ethics and integrity, which
are important to me – and currently I feel a bit like a ‘mole’...
Ellis et al (2011) acknowledge this complexity of “relational concerns” and concede that autoethnographers mostly
“have to be able to continue to live in the world of relationships in which their research is embedded after the
research is completed”.
On the other hand, when it’s autoethnography, can I assume that I’m always and automatically inside myself (except
when I’m ‘beside myself’)? When I am looking at dancesport, when exactly is it autoethnography and when
ethnography? Even when I’m writing about other dancers, there is always a certain amount of autoethnography
involved. Or is there…? When am I a dancing researcher, and when a researching dancer?
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 3 of 8
other hand, we do want to hold on to the sensory (and sensual?) experience, the “I know/recognise
good leader-follower-ship when I feel it, with my body, when I encounter it” – and whilst we might
not be so ambitious as to “want to change the world by writing from the heart” (Denzin 2006), we
do want to share our experience of change, movement, harmony, disruptions with others and
enable them to have such experiences for themselves – and make their own sense and draw their
own conclusions from the experience.
In terms of ethnography or autoethnography, we did not start as researchers and ‘enter’ the dance
world or our working lives, but we started in these situations and chose to apply the ethnographic
lens to them.
We work together in our dance ‘team’ and our research, but also separately as individuals in our
work lives, with complementary sides of the leader/follower relationship in both dance and work. In
our dancing, work and research we are a two distinct individuals with different perceptions,
different ways of learning, different views, but as a dance team we are also an ‘entity’. This adds
another layer of complexity to our endeavours – from a research ethics angle as much as from an
angle of validity and integrity. Ellis et al (2011) put it very succinctly: “Autoethnographers believe
research can be rigorous, theoretical, and analytical and emotional, therapeutic, and inclusive of
personal and social phenomena.”
However, there is still a question in our minds about the style or type of auto (nor not) ethnography
we pursue. Are we realist ethnographers, autoethnographers or, analytic autoethnographers? One
thing we perhaps are not is evocative autoethnographers, though there is some argument about
the definition of autoethnography (Ellis & Bochner 2006).
Being in a dance partnership, a life partnership and a research partnership (but not a work
partnership) means that our autoethnography is entwined, with differing viewpoints, approaches,
and interpretations.
The learning journey, while co-constructed, is unique to each of us. We also have different
agendas with the research, with the leadership and followership journey, and we put the learning to
different uses.
3. Personal (parallel) journeys in sport and work
Our personal journey of discovery is both in competitive (amateur) ballroom dancing (also known
as dancesport), and also in leadership and followership in our working lives. It includes noticing
parallels, analysis of our experience, reflecting on the systemic parallels, and feeding this back into
our dance learning (which has become more sophisticated as a result), as well as feeding back
into leadership/followership in organisational contexts, both from a practitioner and an academic
viewpoint. So our professional journey(s) and our dance journey(s) have been one big and rather
complex process of cross-fertilization, with the research journey triggered and accompanied by
many ‘aha’ moments.
Part of learning to dance competitively at a high level has been learning to reconnect to our bodies,
to our senses, to make sense of our own actions and each other’s re/actions. It has proven
impossible to produce a high level performance without embodiment, without ‘being in the
moment’, being with one’s partner, constantly monitoring their body with one’s own, whether as
leader or follower, whilst still performing one’s own role without getting lost in that monitoring (cf.
Tremayne & Ballinger 2008). Sharpening bodily proprioception has been a long and arduous
journey (and we are still travelling, it is a never-ending journey!) to reaching improvements, but
mental proprioception has also been part of this – and sharpening the senses needed to be
successful as dancers has also sharpened the senses through which we perceive our work
environments and work lives.
However, embodiment in the sense of the close, inseparable connection between thinking with the
head and thinking with the body, is causing problems – not so much at the ‘applied’ end, for
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 4 of 8
example when running workshops, but to quite an extent when it comes to publishing and
presenting our research.
A few moments from on the floor:
We are using dance as a metaphor for leader/follower relationships, but at the same time also as a
‘real thing’ in its own right: an experience of leadership/followership – a context which poses
tasks/challenges such as decision making, relationship building, building trust, leading, following,
listening, responding, initiating, navigating, planning etc. in a real-time situation. These are all
activities that happen in organisational life as well as in dance and thus offer the opportunity to
explore those parallels and, as a result, to develop transferable skills. The tricky bit is that these
things happen concurrently, not sequentially in a neat chronological order – that’s the messiness of
‘real life’ (Tomkins & Eatough 2013). People ‘think on their feet’, i.e. make decisions with and
through their bodies and emotions, as well as their minds (Jordi 2010, Finlay 2006, Varela et al
1992) – so using dance as a medium is an opportunity to become more aware of one’s own
actions, reactions, behaviours and behavioural patterns, as well as exploring how these create and
impact on relationships and interactions. More radical researchers argue that cognition and the
body are actually inseparable (eg Sheets-Johnstone 2011).
We have taken our inquiry along two different pathways:
a) We use our own experience, perceptions and reflections to explore the complexity of the leader-
follower relationship.
b) Since we run workshops with managers and postgraduate students, using dance as an
experiential learning medium, we use their feedback and what they tell us about their experiences.
This helps us not to get too ‘stuck’ in our own ‘dance world’ and adds valuable comments from
what are mostly non-dancers (with few exceptions) or at least non-competitors. It also helps us to
Thought bubble
3
(Ramen):
It’s paradoxical – the more chances we have, the better I think we could do, the more nervous I feel, rather
than feeling confident. “It’s yours to lose.” I feel it in my stomach – I don’t feel confident until I’m on the floor,
then the training, the hard work, takes over. I know what I’m doing, prepare, initiate, partner moves, I move into
space. It becomes a rhythm, at one with partner, with music, initiation, my movement, her movement, together,
monitor, lead, shape, move.
It seems to go on forever, with split second monitoring not just of my partner, but of all the other couples in the
vicinity. I don’t recognise them as individuals, except rarely, even though I know them all – they are patterns of
movements, I read and predict where they will go next. Do I need to modify and change what we are doing as a
result of what they will do next? Do we need to wait for a moment, to pause, or do we need to sweep boldly into
the space and make them wait? What do I need to communicate to my partner before she takes the next
move? Is there space? Do I need to change the direction? Will that direction change cause other issues? Can I
just cut out a section of choreography if couples are in the way, and move into space?
Did something go wrong? How do I correct? Are we still in sync? If I carry on will it get better or worse? Will she
recover? Will I recover? Can I turn it into a different movement? Did she or I do something different, from a
different part of the routine, and can I pick it up from there? Will she follow me seamlessly? Or will it
disintegrate? If it’s irrecoverable, do we have a standard ‘emergency’ restart? Do we continue from the next
figure? Will it confuse or be obvious? Can I lead the recovery clearly? What is the right thing from a ‘leadership’
perspective? Looking back at video recordings, these ‘moments’ are often invisible fractions of seconds, but
when in the middle of it, it feels like a huge mess and so, so obvious to anyone looking. The key is how well
you recover, how well you hold the frame, and how intentional you make the pause look before you restart or
continue. No-one knows your choreography, so if you diverge, repeat a side, do something funky, no-one
knows, as long as you don’t give the game away. Keep looking confident!
When the music stops, it feels like it’s been mere seconds - this is at odds with having felt every split second,
every moment, every mistake, every hesitation. Afterwards, it’s a mash of movement and colour and you’re not
quite sure which bits you messed up. And each of you is sure it was a different bit.
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 5 of 8
establish whether this sort of experiential learning can be a useful approach beyond the
competitive sports world.
Our dance experience has had a serious impact on our working lives, where each of us in their
own role realised that there were strong parallels and useful lessons to be applied. Interestingly,
when we were invited to share some of these discoveries, we found that our stories, our
demonstrations, and the opportunity to ‘try things out for themselves’ made sense to others and
helped their understanding of their roles in their own organisations. Subsequently we have
developed an ‘Exploring leader-follower-ship’ workshop, offering others a structured and gently
facilitated framework for embarking on this journey of discovery.
This approach is different from management training, which tends to pick out individual
skills/tasks/competencies and focus on them in a seemingly rational, often utilitarian way, providing
‘toolkits’ to achieve simple cause-and-effect chains.
Thou
ght bubble
4
(Ramen):
Now working in a much bigger team, working on a vital part of a national infrastructure, located in a large open-
plan office, I find that it feels like a dance – constantly navigating a crowded and complex environment, leading,
being led, teaching, being taught, sensing what others are doing, using my peripheral vision, moving around in a
shared space – between desks, between groups, between tasks, between layers in the organisational hierarchy…
working to stay grounded, keeping my balance, my weight over my feet, preventing myself from being pulled or
pushed off balance.
By this, I mean that many of the tasks that I learned to do as a leader in competitive dance have parallels in the
business world. For instance, in dance, I learned to keep my peripheral vision in play, and look for spaces to
move into, what others were doing, what space they were going to move into, whether I would need to stop, and to
be able to communicate that clearly to my partner. In my current job, I need to be aware of the work others are
doing, and how it will impact my own work, or how I can help or mesh with the other areas of work, to prevent
‘collisions’ that take time and energy to resolve. In reviewing other’s work, having my own reviewed, in explaining
parts of the system, understanding and having other parts of the system explained to me, in interacting and
communicating clearly with people in other teams and parts of the organisation, and in making trade-offs between
one task and another, I can feel the strong parallels with competitive dancing.
Thought bubble
5
(Fides):
Do I know what leadership is? And good leadership at that? Not sure I do, but I can feel if
I’m dancing with someone who makes a good leader for me – I can tell from the outcomes:
the way we move together, the way we are ‘in sync’ with each other and the music, the
performance we can produce together, the ease with which I can play my part, the way I
feel comfortable and confident in my body and my movement, the trust I put into my partner
and the trust I can feel from them.
This also means that I can’t tell someone else what is good leadership or good followership
for them. They have to work it out for themselves – all I can do is tell them what works for
me, and show them ways to find out what works for them.
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 6 of 8
4. Issues/challenges
What makes our journey particularly interesting for us is the fact that our explorations of both
‘spheres’ (the dancesport circuit and the work environment) has lead to mutual influencing - our
reflections relating to work help us to make sense of and inform our dancing, and our dance
experiences have helped us to make more sense of leader-follower-ship in the organisations.
Sometimes we are dancers exploring the world of work, sometimes we are organisational
members exploring the danceworld. Does that make it harder to write about those explorations?
Yes, it does - because often there is confusion and a lack of clarity…
If we consider research output as communication, we constantly bump into limitations: translating
‘concurrent’ into ‘sequential’, action into words, takes out immediacy and possibility for ‘thinking on
your feet’, and the use of auto-ethnography and sensory ethnography (Nakamura 2013).
Nakamura (2013) discusses how sensory ethnography has attempted to address and involve an
array of senses: the visual, olfactory, auditory… Interestingly, the one sense that seems to be
conspicuously missing from her discussion of trends and possibilities in sensory ethnography is
touch…. which is the one sense that, in our view, has made the biggest difference to both our own
learning journey and the ‘leader-follower-ship practice’ concept that we have developed through
this. Moreover, it has been an essential and indispensable element of our research presentations
so far.
Bringing these experiences into a learning context, we aim to facilitate “processes of integration
through reflection” (Jordi 2010), but also “organic emergence of conscious meaning” (ibid.) and
“non-conceptual dimensions” (ibid.) - in other words, bringing the senses into the process of
sensemaking and creating a ‘practice ground’ for “participatory sense making” (Merritt 2013).
If this learning point requires immersing oneself into the experience (Stelter 2008)… what does this
mean for ethnographic methods (Tomkins & Eatough 2013)? Do workshop participants need to
watch a video or look at a hologram? How can we ‘capture’ the 4-dimensionality (3 spatial
dimensions plus time) of our experience to communicate it to others? One way of doing it is to
‘immerse’ others in a similar situational context to enable them to have a similar experience.
Another way is to give presentations with practical demonstrations and/or ‘audience participation’
at conferences, rather than just relying on paper-writing.
An occurrence at a recent conference illustrates this: After our talk about different types of space
and their relevance in competitive dancing, a question came from the audience about power
distribution between leader and follower: “You say that coaches say it is 51% to 49%, but in reality,
how much power can the follower have?” So we walked into a bit of clear space in the lecture room
and demonstrated how the follower a) picks up the invitation from the leader, b) enables the leader
to move by ‘creating’ a space for the leader to move into, c) can make the leader fall over by
blocking him/her! So we demonstrated that if the follower didn’t move, didn’t make space, then the
leader was unable to move, physically falling over the follower, and no performance was possible.
We were also asked about how much verbal communication went on. Our ‘nearly zero’, response
was met with some scepticism, but we demonstrated how it works. We took hold and, in a very
confined space at the side of the lecture theatre, we improvised some waltz figures, not saying a
word (and even without music), but we moved together, synchronised through the frame, the body
language, turning and rotating, starting a larger movement to have to abort it a moment later as the
space ran out, changing it to a turn into the opposite direction at the last moment. We used
techniques that are normally applied on the dancefloor in what is called ‘floorcraft’ (avoiding other
couples that get in the way). Fides as follower followed every move, while we explained (as we
danced) that she had no idea what would happen next.
There was no further scepticism as the question was answered extremely effectively. Through the
mixture of enactment, visual illustration and explanation, the audience ‘got it’ straightaway – it was
clearer than any amount of verbal explanation, or even using photos: an interesting example of
‘show me and I’ll understand’.
Feeling your way forward: Questions about autoethnography, embodiment and sensemaking
© Matzdorf & Sen, July 2015 page 7 of 8
So where does this take us? leave us? push us?
So far, we have had to present our papers together, meaning we both had to be physically present
at conferences to be able to add the sensory evidence to our talks – neither graphs nor
explanations nor videos quite ‘do the trick’. Will we have to continue presenting our research in
teamwork?
We are still not sure whether we are ‘realists’ or ‘constructionists’: whilst we see leader-follower-
ship as mutually constructed between leaders and followers, we shy away from looking exclusively
at co-construction. Maybe our dance experiences have shaped us in this respect: Even though the
competitive aspects of dancesport are almost entirely a matter of social construction (rules,
regulations, conventions, performance, judging), we cannot help acknowledging certain realities,
and the linkages between them (bodies, dancefloor, gravity, physiological limitations and ‘givens’,
motion through space). As pragmatists we seek to combine the best of both worlds, so for the time
being we have slight leaning towards what Dave Elder-Vass describes as ‘realist social
constructionism’ (Elder-Vass 2012) – but in the first instance we are not looking for causal
relationships, but for connections. Whether these are causal, emergent or something else, is
another question…
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Chapter
Full-text available
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This workshop aims to explore the role of the follower in enabling leadership, the leader's twofold obligation to the present and the future, issues around power and 'powerful-ness', as well as the relevance of this in a work context. We will use both the metaphor and the reality of ballroom dancing to explore and challenge our behaviour and assumptions in our roles as leaders and followers in a mix of practical dance exercises and reflection. Since this is 'work in progress', participants' contributions are essential to the outcome.
Article
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to look at how phenomenology can be used to explore the meaning and experience of organizational life. It argues that phenomenology provides more than just themes or leitmotifs for post hoc analysis of narrative data; in its basic formulation, phenomenology is a way of thinking – a method – which illuminates the embodied, subjective and inter-subjective qualities of the life-world. Design/methodology/approach – The paper follows Husserl's command to “go back to the things themselves” to access raw experience, asking ourselves, “what does experience mean phenomenologically?” We draw on the work of Merleau-Ponty to “flesh out” the embodied aspects of that phenomenological experience, outlining how the idea of a “field of presence” grounds our reflections in the here-and-now and gives our selfhood its coherence. Findings – The paper presents data on the diverse meanings of “experience” to suggest that phenomenological and organizational understandings can be differentiated in terms of both temporality and selfhood. The paper argues that these differentiations expose different ways of thinking about the world more generally, drawing on Husserl's philosophy of the “natural attitude” to propose that one of its derivations, an “organizational attitude”, is obscuring our view of embodied experience. Practical implications – The paper provides practical guidelines for those interested in researching the embodied, experiential qualities of organizational life. These emphasize the need to suspend the “organizational attitude”, modify how the authors position and explain the research, and attend to the interplay between the felt sense of the world and the words used to articulate it. Originality/value – The logic of the body helps the authors to work towards a more integrative, conciliatory epistemological position for qualitative organizational research. The paper uses a phenomenological view of embodiment – as both subjectively experienced and objectively presented to the world – to suggest that the body, particularly when it is sick, is giving us clues for how to conceptualize the life-world of work.
Book
This classic book, first published in 1991, was one of the first to propose the “embodied cognition” approach in cognitive science. It pioneered the connections between phenomenology and science and between Buddhist practices and science-claims that have since become highly influential. Through this cross-fertilization of disparate fields of study, The Embodied Mind introduced a new form of cognitive science called “enaction," in which both the environment and first person experience are aspects of embodiment. However, enactive embodiment is not the grasping of an independent, outside world by a brain, a mind, or a self; rather it is the bringing forth of an interdependent world in and through embodied action. Although enacted cognition lacks an absolute foundation, the book shows how that does not lead to either experiential or philosophical nihilism. Above all, the book’s arguments were powered by the conviction that the sciences of mind must encompass lived human experience and the possibilities for transformation inherent in human experience. This revised edition includes substantive introductions by Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch that clarify central arguments of the work and discuss and evaluate subsequent research that has expanded on the themes of the book, including the renewed theoretical and practical interest in Buddhism and mindfulness. A preface by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, contextualizes the book and describes its influence on his life and work. © 1991, 2016 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All rights reserved.
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Ballroom dance has resurfaced worldwide as a highly popular competitive sport and might be added to Olympic medal competition for the 2012 London Games. This resurgence presents opportunities for sport psychologists to provide psychological-skills and performance-enhancement training for ballroom dancers at all competitive levels. Few sport psychologists have the personal experience, expertise, or an adequate knowledge base about the competitive-ballroom-dance environment to provide meaningful intervention strategies for participants. This article was developed to provide initial guidance for sport psychology professionals interested in working in this environment. An overview of the competitive-dance and ballroom-dance environment, strategies used by dance couples for enhanced mental preparation before and during dance competitions, and excerpts from an interview with an Australian championship-level couple provide readers insight into performance-enhancement strategies for DanceSport.
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Recently, in cognitive science, the enactivist account of cognition has been gaining ground, due in part to studies of movement in conjunction with thought. The idea, as Noë (2009), has put it, that “cognition is not something happening inside us or to us, but it’s something we do, something we achieve,” is increasingly supported by research on joint attention, movement coordination, and gesture. Not surprisingly, therefore, enactivists have also begun to look at “movement specialists”—dancers—for both scientific and phenomenological accounts of thinking with and through movement. In this paper, I argue that a serious exploration of dance and movement does not merely bolster the enactivist view, but rather, it suggests a radical enactivism, as envisaged by, e.g., Hutto (2011). To support this claim, I examine an account of “Thinking in Movement” provided by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (1981, 2009) in order to highlight the ways in which intentional agency and meaning-making occur in improvisational dance. These processes, I further argue, closely mirror some of the key components of participatory sense making, as described by De Jaegher and Di Paolo (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 6(4):485–507, 2007). This is beneficial to my case, because it permits a discussion of “thought-full action” that does not depend upon standard cognitivist frameworks for explanation. By carefully focusing on how agency can help to separate mere “thrashing about” from meaningful movement, this paper aim to strengthen the position of radical enactivism from the unique perspective and dance and sense-making.
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