Play and Improvisation

Both physical play and dance improvisation are considered activities that take place in dialogue with the environment. Play and dance improvisation are culturally organized experiences in which we try to make sense of the world. In this artistic research lab we use De Jaegher and Di Paoli’s notion of participatory sense-making (2007) as a way to understand meaning giving processes in dance improvisation and physical play. Participatory sense-making is “the coordination of intentional activity in interaction, whereby individual sense-making processes are affected and new domains of social sense-making can be generated that were not available to each individual on her own” (p.13).

Play and movement improvisation can both be seen as ‘lighthearted and exuberant, but also serious and intense, real but not real, safe but risky. Both involve strategy, will, and skill, but they can also hedge their bets on fate. They organize then randomize, set the rhythm then skip a beat (Gordon & Esbjörn-Hargens, 2003, p.1-2.).

In this this artistic research lab we use dance and play experiences to generate a deeper awareness of and connection with the environment.  We are interested in collective agency: how we move with and are moved by others, not knowing anymore who is following and who is leading in a shared sensibility. Gregory Bateson’s notion of the ecological mind with its underlying assumption that everyone and everything is connected will be used to understand how dancers/children are connected with their environment.


Bateson, Gregory  (1972), Steps To an Ecology of Mind, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jaegher, Hanne and Di Paolo, Ezequiel (2007). ‘Participatory Sense-Making: An Enactive Approach to Social Cognition’, Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6(4), pp. 485-507.

Gordon, Gwen  and Esbjörn-Hargens, Sean  (2007), ‘Are We Having Fun Yet?
An Integral Exploration of the Transformative Power of Play’, Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 47:2, pp. 198-222.