The cognitive structure of movements in classical dance

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Aims:This study was designed to elicit differences in the mental representations of two basic movements from classical ballet, the Pirouette en dehors and the Pas assemblé, stored in long-term memory of dancers of different skill-levels.Method:The movements were demonstrated and explained verbally to professional ballet dancers, amateur dancers, and non-dancers. Subsequently, participants were assigned to a hierarchical sorting (splitting) task in which Basic Action Concepts (BACs) of the movements had to be sorted according to their functional relevance in movement execution. The task was presented as verbal labels on a computer screen. The responses were subjected to the application of a new analytical method, called SDA-M, which includes a hierarchical cluster analysis. The method enabled eliciting cognitive structures of the movements in the participants’ long-term memory, and thus enabled comparing these cognitive structures in subjects of different skill-level.Results:Participants of different skill-level showed movement-specific differences in their mental representation structures in long-term memory. A similar structure was noted in advanced amateurs and professionals for the Pirouette en dehors, which referred to the functional phases of the movement, and less functional representations were noted in beginners and novices. For the Pas assemblé, the experts’ representation structure was different from that of amateurs and novices, pointing toward differences in movement execution. It is concluded that movement representations of this kind in long-term memory might provide the basis for motor control in skilled ballet movements in the form of suitably organized perceptual-cognitive reference structures.Implications:The results point toward a unique mental representation as a function of skill-level and movement nature. Individual and group results obtained with the applied method can be implemented to support (mental) training methods in classical dance practice.

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