John Weaver’s Biological Mechanics of Grotesque Dance

In his Anatomical and Mechanical Lectures Upon Dancing (1721), John Weaver summons to his aid as a dance master recent advances in the scientific disciplines that could contribute clarity and precision to a dancer’s understanding of the body in motion. Of particular interest to Weaver is Alfonso Borelli’s De motu animalium (1685), which is his primary scientific source, though various other themes of the scientific discourse on the human body, on gravity and on the physics of motion since the early Renaissance can be discerned behind his observations on posture, curvature, contortion, and balance. Weaver invokes this body of scientific knowledge in his discussion of serious and grotesque dance alike, but it is in his analysis of the latter that science acquires significant explanatory force. Given the centre of gravity of the performer’s body, a grotesque movement may be viewed as a geometric function of two variables, the lines of innixion and propension, manipulated by the dancer to keep sending his body into a state of disequilibrium and contortion without falling. My purpose in this paper is to show how the scientific analysis of motion informs Weaver’s conception of the aesthetics of grotesque movement and conditions his understanding of the signifying structures that it can generate.

Domenico Pietropaolo
Symposium Title: 
Teaching Dance 2016
Author affiliation: 
St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto