Könczei Csilla

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Dance as Multimedial Poetic Communication. Dance Ritual and Music. Proceedings of the 18th Symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology, The International Council for Traditional Music. August 9-18, 1994 in Skierniewice, Poland. Warsaw 1995. 201-204.

A tánc, mint multimediális poétikai kommunikáció/ Dance as multimedical poetic comunication

A tánc, mint multimediális poétikai kommunikáció/ Dance as multimedical poetic comunication

Megjelent angolul (Dance as Multimedial Poetic Communication cimen) a Dance Ritual        and Music. Proceedings of the 18th Symposium of the Study Group on Ethnochoreology, The International Council for Traditional Music. August 9-18, 1994 in Skierniewice, Poland. Warsaw 1995. kötetben (201-204.)


One of the most important paradigms of the Hungarian dance research-school is the system of ideas based on the concept of evolutionary development. According to the model elaborated especially by György Martin, Hungarian peasant dances may be systematized along a hypothetical path of historical development. The different coexisting dance types would thus represent the different stages of an evolutionary process. In this conceptual frame, we have dances in more advanced stages and dances in less developed stages (Martin 1990: 193). As György Martin himself put it: "Hungarian folk dances can be grouped into types of different evolutionary stages..." (Martin 1965: 469).

            In commenting on György Martin’s dance theory, my aim here is not to overlook the social-historical argumernts of this evolutionary process. Instead I would like to focus on the most important indicator which is supposed to mark the different stages of development of the dances. This indicator in György Martin’s conception is the structural formation of dances (Martin 1979: 484). According to this frame, the structure of dances would change in time from inchoate to well-formed structures. But what dance can be considered to have a fully developed structure? The answer to this question emerges from the other chief paradigm of the Hungarian dance-research school: the application of the linguistic model in analyzing dances (Martin-Pesovár 1960: 214). Verbal language becomes here a normative system to which the dance structures can be compared. Following this paradigm: those dances which are formally analogue to the verbal language are considered to be at the top stage of the evolutionary process, and those which are not looked on as being at more undeveloped stages of the process (Martin 1979: 486-487).

            Music is introduced in this system of thought as having a regulating impact on dance. Althought György Martin admits that there maz be many exceptions, he states that "Music is an important regulating factor of any genre..." (Martin 1980: 395). Different causes of the exceptions are given, such as "factors originating in the characters of the genres" in the case of collective and couple dances, the different stages of the structural development, and finally "the individual capacity" of the dancers. It is quite true that György Martin refers to the contradictory character of the relationship existing between dance and music in the case of different dance types. But under the controversional relationships of dance and music, he still sees a mainstream tendency. The purest example for this main tendency - evolutionary again - is the example of the individual solo lad-dances from Transilvania. Here we face again a process of development; this time the most developed stage being the perfect fit of dance to the accompanying music. At the top of this developing process stays the lad-dance from the region called Kalotaszeg - a dance in which the segmentation of the dance perfectly follows the segmentation of the music, both showing a structure very analogous to the verbal


language (Martin 1979: 497-498). Since György Martin conceives the accompanying music as a "sole regulating factor" in the case of Transilvanian lad-dances (Martin 1980> 403), we are left with the questions of why in some cases music has succeded to regulate dance in the higher extent (like in the case of Kalotaszeg), and why in other cases the regulation did not operate (like in the case of the lad-dances from Csik) (Konczei 1987: 388). Since in both cases the accompanying music is of the same type (that is belonging to the groups of melodies of the so called swineherd dance, kolomejka or ardeleana, all of them being homogeneous regarding rythm), following György Martin’s evolutionary frame the only possible answer to these questions would be that one is at a more developed stage of evolution and that the other is still at a more primitive stage. The normal, ideal state, according to this frame, would be then the perfect unity between dance and music - perfect unity meaning a perfect similarity and synchrony of their segmentation. Different, altering situations in this respect should be seen as either representing a former stage of development, or being already in a disintegrated, decomposed stage. So, teh main idea would be that music has some inner power which can regulate dance, but because of different external obstacles, the tendency of regulation may fail in some cases.

            I would not like to put in question the importance of the historical research of dances. Dances are certainly historical products changinh in time as are all cultural manifestations. My suggestion here would be simply that dance should not be conceived as a homogeneous entity like that of verbal language which undergoes a linear syntactical and morphological development. Better than trying to declare the dances of a certain community to be fully developed, and than to extend this norm to all other communities, we should think in another conceptual framework in which all structurally and semantically different dances would fit. Such a conceptual framework would be then to handle dance as a form of multimedial poetic communication. The first step would be then to consider dance as primarily a form of poetic communication that should be examined as such in the conceptual space of poetics. The term "poetics" is used here not in the western European normative sense of fine art and poetry, but in a very broad sense of the concept that refers to the main intention of creation which primarily concentrates on thre structure of communication as such and pushes into the background all the other functions of the communication (Jakobson 1972: 234-241). So a dance may be magic, of social courtesy, acrobatic, exhibiting political power, may influence supernatural beings, or may be simply for amusement. But all these functions become secondary and, as such, metaphoric, because on the top of the hierarchy of intentions they carry a poetical function.

            In the case of verbal language, natural language is the primary material for poetic language. So poetic language becomes a secondary model based on the primary model of natural language (Lotman 1973: 17). As a consequence, in verbal poetic language we are able to discern the syntactical level from the metricorythmic level. To put it clearly, when we read a poem we are able to distinguish the grammatical segmentation - the words or phrases - from the poetic segmentation which is input by the rythm or metrical form.

            In dance it is very hard to define the secondary character of modelling. Dance can use natural movements as the rough material as well as some segments of "natural" kinesic sign-systems - like some gestures, for instance. But these can be conceived as


"quotations", which put in another poetic content, undergo a semantic change. There can be various relationships between different kinesic forms and dance within a culture. But even if we can observe connections between everyday movements or other "natural" kinesic sign systems and dance, we cannot state a connection between dance as a system and another kinesic-language as a system in the sense that one would rely on the other.

            As a result in the case of dance, we cannot easily decide whether we face a syntactic structure or a metricorythmic structure or both of them at same time. This is a dilemma which has very practical consequences for the formal analysis. It is questionable if we are able to make a right segmentation of dances, and this in turn affects the whole process of analysis. It also remains unclear if we can consider the dance paradigms to be of a grammatical or of a poetic nature. Following this path of considering dance as a poetical text, repetitions, refrains and leitmotifs should be comprehended as poetical devices of creation, and not as markers of a loose syntactical organization carrying redundancy analogous to everyday communication. In any case, we can be aware of the fact that free or strict structure can be a matter of the poetic organization and not ony an indicator of the syntactic organization.

            In conclusion, even if we want to stick to the application of the problematic model of verbal language, we should take into consideration poetic verbal languages as the basis of the analogy, and not natural languages as has been done most often. Thinking in this frame, the dichotomies of simple form / fully developed form - sophisticated form / primitive form - no longer have sense because the different dance forms are seen as the manifestations of different poetic structures which can no longer be put in an evolutionary order.

In this respect, the problem of the relation between dance and music has to be seen also from this angle: the connection of dance and music will not be anymore a question of the syntactics of dance and music but of the relation between their poetic form. Music must surely be considered an important factor in dance communication. But instead of seeing music as a regulating force of dance, we can better conceive of dance and music together with other possibly occuring auditive or visual mediums, like accompanying words, noises or masks, tools, ritual clothes etc. as a totality - that is, as a form of multimedial commication.

            In order to clarify the concepts of medium and multimedial, first I would like to emphasize that the concept of medium should not be confused with the concept of the communicational channel. The channel of the communication is a physical entity which we can physically sense, while the concept of medium refers to a semiotic substance which we can perceive by our mental cognition if we have knowledge about it (Petőfi 1990: 82). The same channel of communication may be the physical carrier of different sign-systems or semiotic organizations other than sign-systems. For instance, sound is the channel of speech and of music, but also of whistling, of laughing or of rattling. And vice versa one medium may rely on more than one channel. The best example for this may be dance which is at the same time a visual, an auditory, a tactile, and a kinesthetic phenomenon. Dance uses all those channels which can be perceived by these senses (Hanna 1987: 89-90, Moore-Yamamoto 1988: 47-54).

So the term multimedial refers to that type of communication in which more than one semiotic entities take part. In fact, practically almost all communicaton is multimedial.


When we speak, we use mimcs and gestures; a written poem is at the same time a verbal text and a medium of visual communication; and it is very rare to have dances without music or any other parallel mediums.

            In conclusion, instead of believing that one medium is able by its nature to regulate others, when looking for the dominant medium of a multimedial communication, we should rely on concrete analysis because the hierarchy of different mediums may differ from case to case according to the conventions of the community. Each cultural community shapes its communicational mediums in its own way,  so we cannot use any previously defined categories when approaching them (Hanna 1987: 18). Instead of extending any cultural concept of dance to all other communities and applying a linguistic model in a normative way to dance, it would be probably be more useful to work with a general conceptual framework into which all culturally different dance concepts would fit, and which would be able to explain the formal and semantic diversity of dances. Perhaps a broader semiotic fiekd would lead us to a deeper understanding of the nature of the analogies between dance and language as well.


 Hanna, Judith Lynne

1987    To Dance is Human. A Theory of Nonverbal Communication. Chicago: The          University of Chicago Press.

Jakobson, Roman

1972    "Nyelvészet és poétika" In Hang - Jel - Vers, 229-276. Budapest: Gondolat.

Könczei Csilla

1987    "Néptánchagyomány és kreativitás. Kutatási ötletek." In Korunk 5 (46): 388-395.

Lotman, Jurij

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Martin György-Pesovár Ferenc

1990    "A néptáncok elemzése és rendszerezése." In  Magyar Néprajz VI. Népzene Néptánc Népi játék, ed. Dömötör Tekla, 189-194. Budapest. Akadémiai Kiadó.

1980    "Improvisation and Regulation in Hungarian Folk Dances." In Acta Ethnographica Scientiarium Hungaricae, 29 (3-4): 391-425.

1979    "A magyar tánckincs történeti rétegei." In A magyar folklór, ed. Ortutay Gyula, 485-523. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

1965    "East-European Relations of Hungarian Dance Types." In Europa et Hungaria. Congressus Ethnographicus in Hungaria. Budapest 16-20. X. 1963. Separatum, 469-515. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó.

1960    "A magyar néptánc szerkezeti elemzése" In Tánctudományi Tanulmányok 1959-1960, ed. Dienes Gedeon and Morvay Péter, 211-248. Budapest.

Moore, Carol-Lynne and Kaoru Yamamoto

1988    Beyond Words. Movement Observation and Analysis. New York: Gordon and Breach.

Petőfi S. János1990     Szöveg, szövegtan, műelemzés (Textológiai tanulmányok).