The Problem of 'Feeling' in Dance Practice: Fragmentation and Unity




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University of Illinois Press



Peer reviewed



In the The Man Without Content (1999) Giorgio Agamben problematises the traditional distinction between artist and spectator. Central to this distinction is the idea that art works by inducing a ‘feeling’ in the spectator. Agamben questions this dichotomy through a re-assessment of the relationship that questions the idea of aesthetic affect. This radical re-evaluation invites reconsideration of the place of ‘feeling’ not only in artistic practice but also in its reception and its pedagogy. The idea of ‘feeling’ is pervasive in dance. The nature of the medium—performed movement—has been supposed to communicate a ‘kinaesthetic sense’. But, what exactly is this ‘feeling’ that is, by implication, supposed to underwrite artistic practice and its reception? If the idea of art’s effect on the spectator is fundamentally flawed, where does that leave the role of ‘feeling’? ‘Feelings’ are not merely sensations, but their subjective appreciation. Caught in the web of memory, sensations are implicated in the contextual pattern of experience: interpreted and anticipated. ‘Feeling’ is a fact of lived experience that is less about ‘sensation’ than about the conscious subjective perception of being-in-the-world. But if ‘feeling’ is unreliable, of what use is it as a measure of artistic success and should it be dismissed as irrelevant? This paper will seek to re-articulate the nature of human being as one that is vibrantly suspended between conscious subjectivity and a world illuminated by that consciousness. Viewed in this way, the conventional thinking about ‘feeling’ in dance can be set aside and the practices of creation and spectating can be reunited in a new way through a fresh understanding of ‘feeling’ that takes into account its unreliability and its physiological and subjective reality.



Aesthetics, Giorgio Agamben, F. M. Alexander, Aristotle, Artist, Dance Training, Emotion, Feeling, Human Being, poiēsis, praxis, Spectator, Unreliable Sensory Appreciation


Leach, M. (2009) The problem of feeling in dance practice: fragmentation and unity. In: Global Perspectives On Dance Pedagogy: Research And Practice. CORD Special Conference, De Montfort University Leicester, June 2009, Champaign, Ill., University of Illinois Press, pp. 130–138.


Research Institute

Institute of Drama, Dance and Performance Studies