We describe results of three studies analysing multimodal behavioural and interactional data (gaze, speech, vocalisations, touch, gestures) and contrast them with what typically occurs in analogous situations outside the dance domain.

The first study compares and contrasts behavioural data of an expert group of performers with non-performers sufficiently trained for the task of a speech-absent contemporary dance improvisation exercise. Our results indicate that in “performance mode” expert performers do not revert to common socio-cognitive strategies used in everyday social interactions (i.e., frequent gaze shifts, mutual gaze, communication-focused body movements), exerting more control over their bodies to avoid conveying ambiguous semiotic cues to their co-performers, thus expanding properties of common communicative strategies for novel and creative uses.

The second study investigates data of dancers’ practise of “marking.” We identify which kinematic aspects get reduced when dancers gesture to recall their choreographies, and what motivates the inclusion and exclusion of these parameters in their marking (e.g., affordance, conventionality, imagistic and iconic properties). Our data indicates that the more formally conventional the dance move is, the more reduced it becomes in the marking, as opposed to more unconventional dance steps, which require added information encoded in their gestural forms. We argue that the extraordinary feat of memorising and rehearsing complex dance sequences is offloaded in part via distributed cognition by means of iconic gesture reduction and conventionality.

Finally, the third study examines instructions communicated by a contemporary ballet choreographer via vocalisation and touch to dancers during rehearsals, analysing the iconic information about the body and movement qualities. Co-demonstrated and syntactically embedded vocalisations inform dancers about the movements’ shape and size, as well as about spatio-temporal movement qualities, whereas touch serves to express emotions, grab, and mould the dancer's body. Although not occurring so often in everyday-life situations, vocalisations and touch are regularly integrated into language in the context of dance practise when transmitting specific information about performance.