I just found a whole bunch of amazing videos! To avoid flooding my Reader Shared, I’ll embed them all in this collection post.
The movement of one’s body to music (dancing) is associated with mental movements.
The act of dancing function as an emotional amplifier, or perhaps more like an accompanying instrument in an emotional composition: The motor coordination parts of the brain sings along with the music.
Watching other people dance can produce much of the same mental movements (because of mirror neurons, I suppose). Accordingly, mental dancing is not at all conditioned on moving one’s physical body. Even imagining dancing (or the visuals of someone dancing) should be enough — at least with some practice.
The kind of dancing I have in mind here is not the modern discotheque mating ritual. And the victorian rhythmic display of social altitude is hardly any better, as the mental sensitivity is dulled by the social motivations involved. Ballet and modern dance are more like it, I guess, but I prefer to exemplify by pointing to tai chi and sufi whirling, because these are explicitly contemplative forms of bodily activity. It needn’t be all that complicated though, and definitely not mystical. Nor need the whole body be involved. — I think the best way to approach this is by giving a few experiments:
Put on some music you like. If that’s not possible where you are right now, just imagine the music.
- Move your disgusting larynx in accord with the melody, but don’t make any sound. Also, make almost imperceptible facial expressions reflecting the emotional qualities of the music (almost imperceptible because no more is needed than a hint, and it’s a lot more socially comfortable that way). I suppose most people do this instinctively (although not so much on purpose).
- Move one of your hands to the music, like this: Open the hand on higher tones, close it on lower. First practice some precision. Then add emotional expressions to your hand’s movements. (Interestingly, this works best when you don’t look at the hand.)
- Don’t move anything, but try to imagine vividly that you do. You’ll probably need a set of rules for the dance, or else the imagination will be absorbed in the tedious task of ex nihilo creativity (— freedom is cumbersome).
Firstly, it is worth noting that even a very narrow spectrum of muscles can create mental dancing with some success. Secondly, and most importantly, attend to the fact that merely imagining dancing with (some part of) one’s body augments the emotional response to the music — this suggests the possibility of the dance to completely detach itself from the body. In other words, it should be possible to teach the imagination itself to dance, unmediated by the body.
In fact, this could probably work as a description of what the mind does every night, when we dream — “imagination’s dancing to the melody of the signals from the sleeping body”, perhaps? — From such a point of view, it seems that mental dancing might just be a question of allowing the mind to become absorbed in selected strands of its continuous (but “suppressed”) imaginary production. Meaning that it is as much a question of letting go as it is of disciplining. The neuroscience of jazz improvisation seems to confirm this. However, I do wish to stress the importance of simplicity and formalization when setting the stage for an attempt at mental dancing. Concentrated imagination can be demanding. You don’t want to overheat your hardware.
I find imagined visuals to be the most interesting: Real-time visualization of an imagined scene or story, like spontaneously creating a music video. It is very important for the depth of absorbtion that this is both real-time and improvisation. This can make quite a toll on a tired mind, so it’s best to keep it to simple ideas. Practical examples:
- When listening to Radiohead’s In Rainbows, I kept imagining Thom Yorke as a puppet outside in the night. On one song he’s dipping a fishing float rhythmically in the ocean, until the song makes him jump in the water and sink to the bottom, while, with a dreamy fatalism, he watches the fishes on the way down. On another song, he’s standing in my fathers backyard, singing, while the landscape is doing the dancing: The sun rises and falls repeatedly, the mountains grow, the ground dries up and cracles etc.
- When listening to Tinariwen’s Aman Iman (which, by the way, is highly recommended), I imagined a North African desert giant walking in my footsteps, personifying the music with his facial expressions and walking rhythm. This was when I was walking outside, something which makes it harder to imagine the more detached, far out stuff.
- Visuals can also be very basic and transient, almost like visually augmented emotions: Things like imagined dimming of light, imagined lightness of the body, sparkles of light, artificial joy in the stomach etc. These are a lot easier on the brain power, but harder to remember vividly. The same logic applies as to dreams: Keep it somewhat anchored to reality, and you will recall what it was like a lot easier. A personal recommendation of music for this kind of brain dance: Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air.
The learning curve of mental dancing is similar to that of bodily dancing or juggling: It starts out depressingly low, but rises rapidly with practice.
I don’t believe a lot of people consciously immerse themselves in the imaginary, but I think they should, because 1) it’s relaxing, like yoga for the mind (try it after a long day), and 2) you get to know thyself. Furthermore, as Kermit can attest, it’s just plain groovy:
Thanks to information aesthetics for the find. Perfect timing!