Embody Language

A Thesis Project Investigating Dance, Songlines, and Memory

Baining Fire Dance of Papua New Guinea

Mnemonic Art and Ceremony

Given what we know about embodied cognition and indigenous, neolithic, greek, martial, and aboriginal knowledge practices, it's clear that kinetic embodiment (dance and song) is a powerful communication and archival tool; particularly when used in conjunction with temporal rhythms, visual narrative, and spatial mneumonics. It's irrefutable that song and dance anchored to specific locations, rituals, and stories, are critical to human development and the continued memorization and archival of oral cultures.

How might we structure a contemporary lesson plan that utilizes the benefits of these historically critical tools? (How can dance work alongside song, visual, and spatial systems to learn didactic material in the classroom?)

Ceremonial Dance Footage Coding

Archival Research

Alongside the scientific and historical evidence derived from my thesis research, I explored numerous types of social dances from across the world, particularly those that told narratives, had mimetic qualities, or connected with the metaphysical.

Ultimately, it led me to the conclusion that embodying ‘otherness’ by magnifying human traits, swapping with the kinesthetic traits of other things, or obscuring the human form altogether, is a powerful internalization mechanism for memory when practiced through sequencial but repeating rituals and narratives.

Dance acts as a form of kinetic empathy because it grants the ability for the practitioner to 'embody' or become someone or something else: be it an animal, spirit, or idea. This is a powerful and emotionally salient tool.

Proprioception - Artwork by Marc Chicoine

Driving Question

How can dance work alongside song, visual, and spatial systems to learn didactic material in the classroom?

Dancing and singing a bio lesson

Initial Concept

I started developing small form lessons that utilized rhythmic elements for entrainment and songlines for memorization. Dance acts as a memory peg to anchor the sequence.

This is critical because chunks of information without strong links or connections to relevant triggers are often innaccessible to memory. Strengthening the information itself and the bond between pieces of information are both crucial for longterm retention. In this case, the song houses the info, and the dance acts as glue, miming and linking different components.

Kareoke | DDR Inspired

Using a guide

Continuing this song and dance lesson concept I experimented with a follow along visual by animating a 3d model with my dance and presenting it on screen with the accompanying chant.

This model isn't dissimilar from popular rhythm games like dance dance revolution. Still, I felt it needed a more relational spatial component for lesson plans with complex and interwoven information.

Dreamscapes: Song, dance, and storytelling pegged to the land

Australian Dreamscapes and
the 'Memory Palace'

I considered how one could create their own visual-spatial landscape for specific lessons, or 'Lessonscape'. Australian aboriginal cultures anchor specific songs and dances with didactic information to the natural landscape of Australia, creating informational memories with potent triggers. With this in mind, I decided to create a 'Lessonscape' for learners to follow.

I focused on a lesson pertaining to a generalist history of art. While it's definitely only a small fraction of global art history, I attempted different chronological time periods, notable works, as well as geographic locations, would bring about interesting song and dance mneumonics.

Researching the Lesson

I catalogued key time periods and events throughout art history and decided on notable chunks of information to group into memory. I limited these chunks to a maximum of 5 as the Method of Loci method traditionally encourages only placing 5 visual cues inside a single space.

I then developed 'Songlines' or fun mneumonic chants pertaining to each historical fact.

Version 1 Prototype

Chunking Information into
Visual Spatial Modules

I created a prototype rug sized memory board, similar to the Lucasa memory boards of Luba people, in Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These devices segment pieces of related information along physical markers (beads), creating memory pegs that allow relations between visual and spatial cues that house the information. This is the same concept as a memory palace but amplified by utilizing a physical artifact.

Version 2 Dreamscape

Next Iteration Memory board

I segmented and color coded specific modules. Both size and color is utilized depending on the artistic period, as well as what specific didactic information is housed. Each is extended from the source point depending on the relative time frame, the source point being the oldest. This provides a birds eye view, or essentiall a mind map, of the entire lesson plan and how the components connect together.

Its a backdrop for the lesson. The next step was utilizing the song and dance chants associated with each marker, and generating a system for interacting with each area along the journey in order to access.

Initial dancing

Video Choreo

I turned the information in each chant and location into a series of dance movements and gestures. I also utilized rhythmic patterns, spatial directions, rhyming, and mimicry in order to place key dates and as mneumonic mechanisms for names.

Rotoscoping dreamlike dance

Bulding Visual Narrative

I created a cutout composit of each video so that I could focus all visuals on the movement itself. I then rotoscoped each dance to reduce distraction and also elevate the visual engagement. I hoped to create an otherworldy quality to the dances because my prior archival evidence. It suggests that relating to the metaphysical or developing elaborate decoration to mask or enhance the human form helps to make information more dynamic and salient. It also increases the visual description of narrative.

Merging dance and chant

Adding Rhythm with Songline

Since entrainment is proven to boost memory reception and retrieval, I utilized a simple rhythmic sequence for each segment of choreo (a shaker). I also overlayed each chant alongside its respective dance. These modules can be repeated until the user is comfortable rehearsing the dance and chanting in sequence with the related move as the memory peg for the each songline. When they are successful, they can move on.

Interaction on screen

Interaction Points

In order to access these modules, I wanted to create a hands off experience so the user is focused on their embodiment of the information. To do this, I developed a naming system for each visual marker. By saying the name into the microphone, the user can begin to interact with the associated song, dance, and visual projection.

Users can also hover over the map on the computer console and click the highlighted names of locations in order to access the songline and dance for that space. This still keeps the integrity of the memory palace because of its spatial metaphor for each area of information, but its admittedly less physically embodied.

Interaction on screen

Augmented Reality Experience

Using Google's open source web component, model-viewer, I created an augmented reality web experience for my topological dreamscape. I developed interaction points through vanilla js.

Users can physically travel through the space and click on locations in order to access the learning dance and song. (Note, model-viewer AR tends to work best on Web-XR enabled Android Devices)

Hands Free Verbal Interaction

Final Walkthrough

This culminated into an interactive journey that allows the user to move through a spatial representation of time, geographic location, and cultural periods, in order to access information about different historical periods of art.

Project Links

Test the 2d Art History Dreamscape app (Voice Commands Enabled).

Test the Art History Dreamscape 3D AR app. (Mobile Recommended)

Read the thesis in its entirety, including overarching research informing the capstone project.