What is dance ‘data’ and who owns it?

The prevalence of technology in our daily lives means that most people in the western world generate and use data in multiple different ways every day. Every time we use a computer to send an email, or stream a film on our televisions data is gathered.

But what about when we dance? Can movement be captured and catalogued in this way? These questions have been explored in some depth in some areas of dance research through motion capture, dance analysis, and digital projects such as Synchronous Objects (http://synchronousobjects.osu.edu/), however, they also have resonance in out daily lives. For instance, as we move around cities data about our movements are captured on CCTV. The way we move is part of our identity, and explicitly or implicitly expresses things about our feelings, so should movement data be considered ‘personal’?

According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Personal Data means that data which relates to a living individual who can be identified either from the data alone, or from that data and other information which is in the possession of, or likely to come into the possession of the controller. In order to be considered personal data, it must also include any expression of opinion about the individual or any indication of the intentions of the data controller or any person in respect of the individual. So, whether we can think of movement data as personal depends on whether the mover can be identified through the data, and whether we can think of the movement as expressing their opinion, raising interesting philosophical questions about the relationship between movement and self-expression.

Whether or not we can identify the mover is particularly interesting in relation to motion-capture, during which the motion of the body is abstracted from the physical form of the person moving. In movement analysis contexts, motion-capture markers are usually placed on bony landmarks, meaning that the biomechanics of the movement are captured, rather than features such as faces, skin, body shapes and so forth, but does the way we move also reveal our identity? Marc Boucher asks, “in analogy with handwritten signatures, do people have characteristic motion signatures that individualize their movements?” (2011). If the answer to this question is yes, then we can see mocap data as closely related to identity, raising interesting questions about how it is shared, stored and licensed. In order to further explore this area, I intend to talk to people who work with motion-capture and movement in various contexts, to explore how they think about ownership and identity of their movement data.


Boucher, M. (2011) ‘Virtual Dance and Motion-Capture.’ Contemporary Aestheticshttp://www.contempaesthetics.org/newvolume/pages/article.php?articleID=614 

Information Commissioner’s Office (n.d.) ‘What is Personal Data? A Quick Reference Guide.’ https://ico.org.uk/media/for-organisa

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