The Myth of ‘Just do it’: Thought and Effort in Expert Action preface

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Proprioceptive immersion

Let me, however, leave my disagreement with Dreyfus and Kelly about Federer aside, and return to the question of pleasure in expert bodily actions. I said that expertly moving one’s body can be pleasurable. One way I believe that dancers (if not other bodily experts) experience the pleasure in movement is in feeling as if they are in contact with every point of their own bodies.111 Britt Juleen, a dancer with Dutch National Ballet, explained to me that during a performance, she aims to engage fully in the quality of her bodily movements. In her words, the goal “is to be totally immersed the feeling of my body moving” (personal communication).

The relevant sense involved in Juleen’s experience of being immersed in the feeling of her body moving is, I submit, proprioception; Juleen is feeling, for example, her arms lifting, her upper back arched, her fingers extended. In contrast to Fitts and Posner’s view about expert action, according to which experts ignore kinesthetic information, far from ignoring such information, she is deeply aware of it.

I, too, felt that this type of bodily immersion was an essential element of a good performance: the best performances typically involved being immersed in the feeling of movement. I am not sure if this was the most important aspect of a good performance for me, since the experience of being in dialog with the music was incredibly important as well as pleasurable (and Juleen also commented on how she loved the experience of dancing to music); the intimate form of communication one has with one’s partner or fellow dancers can also be delightful. Nonetheless, the experience of bodily immersion was certainly one highly important aspect of performing. Some of the pleasure comes from the bare quality of abstract movement itself, but sometimes an idea behind the movement facilities the experience. For example, during the White Swan pas de deux (from Swan Lake), the ballerina’s partner wraps the ballerina’s arms around her as he embraces her. The movement itself feels sensuous, and the idea of the embrace adds to the sensuality. When all is going well, I claim, a dancer will feel immersed in this experience of movement.

Musicians, it seems, also become immersed in their bodily movements, as Charles Rosen, a philosopher as well as professional musician, explains. In his book Piano Notes (2002), he talks about the sheer pleasure of moving his hands, going even so far as claiming that one cannot even become a professional pianist if one does not deeply enjoy the physical movements of one’s fingers on the keys:
Pianists do not devote their lives to their instrument simply because they like music: that would not be enough to justify a dreary existence of stuffy airplanes, uncomfortable hotel rooms, and the hours spent trying to get the local piano technician to adjust the soft pedal. There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need to contact with the keyboard, a love and need which may be connected with a love of music but are not by any means totally coincident with it. (p. 10)
This love and need, if not constitutive of, is at least accompanied by pleasure: the pleasure of moving one’s hands. “Part of the pleasure of playing the piano . . . is purely muscular,” Rosen writes, and “in general[,] pianists neither have to look at nor listen to themselves,” (p. 34). But this does not mean that the pianist’s mind or self is not there. Rather, the mind, it would seem, is on the feeling of movement, and this experience of movement comprises, among other things, a sense of self.

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