I can't remember..!

I'm really interested in memory and how it relates to dance, which makes sense because although I guess you can record it, dance is ephemeral. It happens and then it's gone. I think about the idea of how people remember a piece and how that could be different from the real-time experience. It seems like an important distinction because that's the part that they'll keep with them forever.

There's a TED talk I watched that is tangentially related, given by Daniel Kahneman. It's about the real time perception of happiness vs. the memory of perceived happiness:
Kahneman seems to see the rift between experience and memory as a cognitive disadvantage, but I think it's an exciting idea to explore in art, especially transient art.

He gives the example of a friend who watched the symphony, having an incredible time, he was truly happy, until at the end there was a dreadful screeching noise that he said "ruined the whole thing". But did it? It couldn't take away the happiness he felt while he watched the piece, though it obviously coloured his recollection of it. Here it's presented as unfortunate that we can't separate individual memories from their context, but I can't help but wonder if that could be effectively used, though don't look at me for ideas yet. I guess the question is which is more important, the experience or the memory. I'm inclined to say most people think the memory is more important.

I have a weird obsession with the idea of how people remember things. When I was fourteen, I fell off a scooter and dragged my face along some asphalt, giving my brains a good jostle. I wound up in hospital with anterograde memory loss (amnesia), which meant I couldn't form new short term memories. I don't remember any of this, but every member of my family has told me the story so many times that I feel like I was there (ha!)*

After fourteen hours or so of the broken record question asking, I came to and started forming new memories. But I was really confused and couldn't remember quite a lot of the past year. It took a long time before much came back and to this day I don't remember one thing about the day or week of the accident, and not much about the summer leading up to it. It's just gone, which is sad. I sometimes wonder about the thousands of tiny moments that aren't in me anymore.

Since then I have been absolutely fascinated with the experience of losing a memory and since focusing on dance I think about how those things are related a lot.

I think that makes transient art forms unique.

So there you go. I usually relegate this type of chatter to my paper dance journal, but I come back to this line of thinking over and over again.

*My mother, who reads this blog regularly, also devised an absolutely hilarious task for me to teach me a lesson about going on a scooter with no shoes or helmet.


  1. Memory and dance is not something I had thought a great deal about until this moment, more precisely how different forms of memory come into play. Specifically, motor memory (which I have just been told is a very robust form of memory). It is fascinating to consider a dance performance as a micro study of collective and individual memory and the process of memorizing. Loved this post and your exploration of memory and dance. (Loved the tiny print too.)

  2. That summer, minus your accident (it's strange for me to remember that I was there when it happened), was probably the best summer of my life.

  3. dmc - Thanks lady :) I wouldn't mind chatting sometime about memory, I seem to remember you got really into memory and perception and identity issues for awhile there. Any books you can recommend?

    Katie - That is weird.. I think Trevor told me later that you helped clean the asphalt out of my face. I've always been super grateful for that, the doctors said if it hadn't been cleaned right away I would probably have needed some surgery later on to tidy up the scarring.

    It's weird for me too.. I think the accident was sometime in July and I don't remember the SBTS production I was in (although I know I was) or the note burning party (though I saw the pics) but the rest of that summer is kind of blurry too. The first clear memory I have is Cullam's birthday party, I think. I guess that was a month later. After that I think things pretty much went back to normal.

    It's funny to talk to someone who saw it happen. I think about it pretty often.

  4. Something I think about a lot is how I have very little memory of my dance performances. When doing it I feel very in the moment but not swept away (that I remember) but afterwards I can only remember certain moments, such as the look on someone's face or the feel of a movement. I did a sword performance recently where one of the few memories I have of it was thinking, "I'm really glad I know my choreography so well." And that's about it. I wonder if it's because my whole self is working so hard at what I'm doing, or if it's the way my brain gets over the nervousness (and allows me to get up on stage again and again).

  5. Oh my god Amy, that's so funny. Before it got too long, the other thing I wanted to talk about in this entry was how I think I would en enjoy performing oodles more if I thought I was going to remember what happened onstage-- especially during improv. I sometimes watch video and nothing even looks familiar!

    Do you find that happens when you dance with a group too? I find those times I remember better than solo stuff. Same with choreography.

    It's weird to come offstage and right away you have no idea how you did. I find a bit hard to know how well I danced because of that.


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