Deirdre Reynolds


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Personal profile


I studied French and German at Trinity College, Dublin, and graduated with First Class Honours in 1980. From 1980-81 I was an étudiante étrangère at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de Jeunes Filles (Sèvres). During that year I attended courses taught by Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva, Tzvetan Todorov, Gérard Genette, Jean-Pierre Richard and Louis Marin, and developed a keen interest in comparative semiotics and aesthetics. I graduated from the Sorbonne Nouvelle with a Maîtrise ès Lettres Modernes. My mémoire de maîtrise was on the poetry and theory of Stéphane Mallarmé. The topic of my PhD (supervised by Prof. Clive Scott), which I obtained from the University of East Anglia in 1987, was "Imagination and the Aesthetic Function of Signification in the Poetry and Painting of Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Kandinsky and Mondrian". From 1986-87 I was a lectrice at the Université de Paris IV, Sorbonne. I subsequently took up posts at several British universities (Lancaster, Warwick, Keele and Bristol), before coming to Manchester in 1998. From the mid 1990s the main topic of my research was modern and contemporary dance, which led to my involvement with body-based practices such as Alexander Technique, Pilates and massage therapy. From 2004-2010 I was a member of the Board of Trustees of Contact Theatre, when I spearheaded the initiative to launch the Palaver Festival, a collaboration between Contact and the University of Manchester which has been running since 2005. Since 2008 I have carried out research on dance audiences and collaborated with choreographers. From 2008-2011 I directed the AHRC-funded project, Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy  and in 2011 I was a co-founder of Manchester Dance Consortium, which has received funding from Arts Council England. From 2015-2018 I am Lead Partner on the International Leverhulme Network, Evaluating Methods of Aesthetic Enquiry across Disciplines, and my current research is on the sea and multisensory aesthetics.

Research interests

While working on Stéphane Mallarmé, I became increasingly interested in his writings on dance, particularly his response to the dancer Loïe Fuller. This led to my discovery of modern dance and of the women who pioneered it as an art form, and I set out to explore rhythm and kinesthetic imagination in dance. These were the starting points for my later research on energy and performer-spectator relations in dance.

Recent areas of research interest:

  • dance,
  • performance,
  • uses of energy in movement,
  • kinesthesia,
  • kinesthetic imagination,
  • performer-spectator relations in dance,
  • audience research,
  • interdisciplinary collaborations between Arts/Humanities and Neuroscience.

In 2007 I published a monograph with Dance Books: Rhythmic Subjects:  Uses of Energy in the Dances of Mary Wigman, Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.  

Here I expand work carried out in post-1990s Dance Studies, developing innovative material on a burgeoning interdisciplinary topic:  the uses of energy in movement.  I elaborate an original concept of kinesthetic imagination as an activity which produces changes in habitual patterns of energy usage in movement. These changes reflect and critique norms established in socio-cultural contexts as well as in particular dance traditions.

This project was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, by the AHRB Research Leave Scheme, and by British Academy grants for travel.

From 2008-2011 I directed the research project ‘Watching Dance: Kinesthetic Empathy’ funded by the AHRC.  This multidisciplinary, collaborative research project used audience research and neuroscience to investigate arguments that kinesthetic empathy is central to spectator response to dance. Spectator responses were investigated through a variety of methods, including neurophysiological testing and qualitative/ethnographic audience evaluation.  

From 2015-2018 I am Lead Partner on the Leverhulme International Network, ‘Evaluating Methods of Aesthetic Enquiry Across Disciplines’. The Network brings together partners from Concordia, Copenhagen, Manchester, Oxford, Paris and Vienna, working across Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Cognitive Sciences. We aim to generate productive strategies for transdisciplinary study of aesthetics.

My current research is on the sea and multisensory aesthetics in artistic and cultural practices.


Research students

As an interdisciplinary scholar I welcome PhD students working on a wide range of topics. I particularly welcome proposals relating to dance, performance and aesthetics and/or crossovers involving arts and science. Please contact me by email with your ideas for PhD study:  

PhD topics currently supervised:

The Dancer as Facilitator in Museums and Art Galleries (co-supervision with Dr Simon Parry, Drama); Presence in French Theatre (co-supervision with Dr Jérôme Brillaud, French Studies), Hilma af Klimt and the Emergence of Abstraction (co-superivison with Prof. David Lomas, Art History and Visual Studies). 

PhD topics recently supervised, with dates PhD awarded:

2012 - The Dancing Self/Other: Kinaesthesia and Visual Self-reflection in Three Dance Styles (with Prof. Nick Crossley, Sociology); 2012 - Kinesthetic Empathy and Screendance Audiences  (with Dr Matthew Reason, York St John University); 2012 – New Paradigms for Researching Theatre Audiences at Contact Theatre, Manchester (with Dr Rajinder Dudrah, Drama, and Dr John McGrath, Contact Theatre); 2012 - Krysztof Warlikowski’s Theatre and the Possibility of Encounter (with Dr Aleksandar Dundjerovic, Drama); 2012 – Manhood and Masculinities:  French Women Writers in the Belle Epoque (with Dr Floriane Place-Verghnes, French); 2011 -  Investigating the Figural: Jean-François Lyotard’s Writings on Art (with Dr David Lomas, Art History and Visual Studies); 2010 -  Surrealism and Sublimation:  Art and literature between Psychoanalysis and Alchemy (with Dr David Lomas, Art History and Visual Studies)

Further information

Academic Journals

Advisory panel of Dance Research Journal (2011 - )

Advisory panel of Romance Studies (1998 - )

Associate board of Dance Research (2006 - )


April 2008 – March 2011

PI for AHRC-funded project (£526,493):

‘Watching Dance:  Kinesthetic Empathy’.  

 A major collaborative, multidisciplinary research project with the Universities of York St John, Glasgow, and Imperial College, London.  The team consisted of 5 investigators (PI and 4 co-PIs), a postdoctoral Research Associate, a Ph.D. student funded by the project, and a half-time administrator.

The research crosses the fields of audience research, dance studies and neuroscience.  

In 2008 we held a Watching Dance Consultative Forum in Manchester.The profile of guests included academic researchers in the fields of dance studies, audience research, and neuroscience; dancers and choreographers; audience developers; dance teachers and representatives of agencies interested in arts-science collaborations. As well as delegates from major UK institutions such as the Wellcome Institute and the Arts Council and a number of high-profile universities we had international delegates from Amsterdam School of Arts and The University of Western Sydney presenting their work.

 A major international conference was held in April 2010, entitled Kinesthetic Empathy; Concepts and Contexts. There were 200 registered delegates from 12 countries outside the UK (Malta, Israel, Canada, Australia, the US, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Finland), of whom c.15% were independent artists or from non-academic organisations.

 For details of the project, see

and also our interactive site, http://www.watchingdance.ning/


May 2015 - June 2018: Lead Partner on Leverhulme International Network, Evaluating Methods of Aesthetic Enquiry Across Disciplines’, (£122.941).

The Network is structured as a series of workshops over three years, creating opportunities for the members to come together and discuss methodology in intensive workshop settings. The partners are from the universities of Concordia, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Manchester, Oxford, Paris and Vienna. Working across Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Cognitive Sciences, we seek to generate productive strategies for transdisciplinary enquiries into aesthetics.

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Philosophy, Imagination and the Aesthetic Function of Signification in the Poetry and Painting of Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Kandinsky and Mondrian, University of East Anglia

… → 1987

External positions

Steering Group member, Dancing with Memory, University of Chichester


Strategy Group, Manchester Dance Consortium

2011 → …

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing


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