Dance through a Sociocultural Lens reconceptualises the art of dance composition and dance education, by acknowledging the social origins of dance. A sociocultural approach shifts the focus within these domains from the individual to the group. It creates space for changing the prevailing dance culture from authoritarian to communitarian, and opens opportunities for joint authorship of new dance knowledge. It also recognises the critical importance of egocentric speech and play as essential tools of the mind, elements that are currently missing from this largely non-verbal art form. Dance education limits the use of spoken or written language, reducing egocentric utterances between students, and diminishing opportunities for intermental and intramental thinking. Play is often viewed in dance education as a non-productive fanciful activity, rather than a pivotal stepping stone to higher cognitive
processes through social interaction, use of imagination, and symbolic transformations.
The research component of this thesis investigated two elements of dance composition, for mediating human dance action: firstly the process of using a collaborative modus operandi in the social construction of new dance works, and secondly the constraints and affordances of group concept mapping artistic vision, in order to strengthen the conceptual frame of the dance work and provide a choreographic blueprint before the construction of language in the form of movement material. This collaborative dance composition method is in alignment with current teaching practices in the sciences, which use group concept mapping to meaningfully integrate knowledge in young students, and thus address the needs of both the individual and the group (Buzan, 1996; Jonassen et al., 1997; Novak, 1998; Van Boxtel, 2000; Wandersee, 1990). It also parallels current
sociocultural teaching practices in Education Queensland's New Basics Project, in which whole class collaborative activity or Rich Tasks, allow all participants to meaningfully contribute (Dewey, 1958; Freire, 1993; Luke et al., 1998; Vygotsky, 1978). Two collaborative dance composition workshops, one with tertiary dance students the other with postgraduate artists, provide the vehicle for assessment of these new tools.
The case studies in this thesis demonstrated that a collaborative dance composition method, in which participants engage in a parallel processing modality to create new dance work, can achieve significant efficiencies in choreographic time - up to six times faster - and can create dance work that is rich in diversity. Speech was a vital part of the choreographic process, forming an inseparable alloy with actions, particularly in the construction of movement material. The collaborative journey moved in a
cyclical fashion, oscillating between highs and lows. When collaborators successfully managed conflict, and accepted full responsibility for their role in the collective, the experience of joint authorship proved to be rewarding and productive. Concept mapping is fundamental to any activity that requires composition of thought. Use of this mediational means in these two case studies helped participants to tease out and then organise their thoughts for greater conceptual clarity. The group managed to separate the thinking from the dancing, or in Vygotskian terms the thought from the language being used, which in this case was movement vocabulary. At the outset, concept mapping was a time-consuming process, but the more participants practised making concept maps, the better they became at organising and relating concepts.
An implication for future research and practice in collaborative dance composition is that, like all complex ventures, adequate preparation
is the key. In these projects, more attention to learning the art of concept mapping before project commencement would have helped the process and resulting product. Concept mapping leads to a change in one's thinking, but this change takes time to realise and can result in initial resistance and frustration for the user. Part of the resistance to concept mapping for dancers in these case studies appeared to be the increased emphasis on the conceptual over kinaesthetic exploration. Though there was obvious benefit in separating the thinking from the dancing in these projects, these two processes should never be entirely divorced.