EDA Profile of The American Dance Festival

Audience Memory Project

“How do the dancers remember all those steps?”

Audiences often ask this question after a dance performance, since they have difficulty even remembering the movements that they just saw. Can the “memory tricks” that dancers use work for audiences themselves, to help them remember performances they view? More importantly, could the ability to remember and comprehend dance movements lead to an increased interest and engagement with dance?

The American Dance Festival (ADF) and the Memory for Movement Laboratory at Duke University are betting that improving audiences’ memory of dance will increase the impact of performances. Partly with EDA support, they have developed the Audience Perception and Memory research project, based on research by Duke’s Dr. Ruth Day, who has been studying the mental processes of dance audiences for decades. The project aims to gather information about memory and foster interest in dance, using three major components:

  • An online Dance Perception Quiz, in which users watch videos of dances and then participate in perception and memory tasks to test recall. The confidential quiz also gathers demographic data for research purposes.
  • Memory Workshops where attendees meet to view demonstrations of dances, learn simple movements, and participate in memory experiments.
  • The Memory Enhancement Program, in which participants visit the Memory Lab at Duke University to experience various memory experiments, training, and tips. Participants report what they remember from performances they have attended, and later their interest in seeing more performances will be measured.

Designed and launched in June 2010, as of the summer of 2011 the quiz had since had nearly 900 participants, and the labs and workshops served over 700. ADF reports that the interest and enthusiasm generated by the project among participants was high, and audience perceptions were generally positive. The research component of EDA support explored if audience members' engagement with the performance differs when they have participated in the Audience Perception and Memory project.

ADF and the Memory for Movement Laboratory believe that it is easier to share information about dance when it’s about how to remember movement, rather than how to talk about dance using a technical vocabulary. Details about research findings and how to replicate methods have not yet been shared but may be published in book form through the university. ADF encourages its peers and their audiences to take the Dance Perception Quiz on their website.

View a Power Point presentation and video overview.
Visit the Audience Memory Program webpage.
View/take the Dance Perception Quiz.
Read the EDA research on ADF.

Jodee Neimerichter or Ruth Day

See also the content about this project that was presented during Dance/USA’s EDA Learning Exchanges, including video presentations from the grantees themselves about their project, as well as timelines, budgets, and other details.