This article received the 2020 Outstanding Student Paper Award from the American Society for Aesthetics. Contemporary Aesthetics recommends reading Renee Conroy’s article, “Reflections on ‘Catching the Ghost: House Dance and Improvisational Mastery,’” following this article.
I interviewed seven expert house dancers regarding their improvisational practice and discovered several intriguing testimonial consistencies. House dancers articulated a feeling of simultaneously being in control and not in control of their movements. Furthermore, in peak moments of improvisation, interviewees were often surprised by their own capabilities. How do we award artistic credit to someone who is seemingly not aware of his or her own capabilities and reports not being in full executive control? I utilize the theoretical framework of 4E cognition (embodied, enactive, embedded, and extended) to address these philosophical puzzles. I argue that on a 4E reading of house dance improvisation, the standard distinction between control and non-control is not useful, because improvisational cognition is an ongoing enactive loop. Hence, we can credit house dancers on artistic grounds for becoming optimally coupled with the dance environment.