By Allison Bohman, based on an interview with Ian Heckman
Ian Heckman, originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, is an MA in dance studies candidate at The College at Brockport: The State University of New York. He will be graduating in only a few short weeks and is going on to pursue his PhD in Philosophy at The University of British Columbia beginning in September 2015. Ian completed his BS in dance and BS in philosophy at Brockport as well. I had the honor of sitting down with him to learn more about his area of research and what it means to go on for PhD after completing an MA in dance.
Bohman: What are your plans upon graduation this spring?
Heckman: I will be pursuing a PhD in philosophy at The University of British Columbia beginning in September. The program can take three-six years to complete. There are two years of course work and then the amount of time it takes you to finish your dissertation. These generally average around 200 pages or more. I’m grateful to have received funding to support my tuition as well as extra monetary funding for my research. I am really looking forward to this next step in my life.
Bohman: What interested you about this track? How did you get here?
Heckman: I completed my undergraduate degree in philosophy at The College at Brockport and during that time, I also dabbled in some graduate courses. I quickly became interested in philosophy as a field. I am also especially interested in a sub field of philosophy known as “Aesthetic and the Philosophy of Arts.” In addition to my undergraduate studies in philosophy, I was also a dance major. As a dancer and choreographer, this combination just felt right.
Bohman: What are your research interests?
Heckman: I am interested in how philosophy intersects with dance. There is a small and slowly growing field of study called the “Philosophy of Dance.” It is not very big yet, but more and more people have been interested in it recently and I think it will continue to develop over the next several years. My current thesis is a work in applied aesthetics. I look at philosophical literature and theories and apply them to dances I watch. These dances then inform how I theorize in my writing. In other words, I present a theory, I look at the dance, and then apply the theory. The theory and the dance both inform each other though.
Bohman: As part of your current MA in Dance studies, you have been working on a thesis. What is your thesis about?
Heckman: My current thesis looks at the “sublime.” I define the sublime as a particular emotional response to being overwhelmed and overpowered. You feel less than yourself for a while. You recognize the greatness of something outside of you. You eventually recognize something for yourself though. There are profound thoughts that ultimately uplift you. Originally, it is a humbling experience, and then you become emotionally overwhelmed and at some point, something happens (in my writing, I call this a “profound sentiment”) revealing something about human nature. I take this concept of the sublime and look at how it applies to dance and how dance evokes it.
In my thesis, I look at specific modern choreographers and dances. My two main focuses are Pina Bausch and Mark Morris. I also write a bit about Brockport alumnus, Elizabeth Streb, as well as about some European choreographers such as Tero Saarinen and Carolyn Calrson.
The project itself has been around for a long time in my thoughts. Once I discovered the philosophical literature on the topic of the sublime, I always thought this is what I was interested in, even before I fully understood it. As a choreographer, I have always tried to evoke a feeling of the sublime in my work. I discovered my first philosophical moment my sophomore year of college and I wanted to apply it to dance. Never had the time to really work it out. Reading more books allowed me to deepen my understanding. In the process of writing this thesis, I had the opportunity to watch a lot of dances through a particular lens that ended up contributing to my overall theory, especially while looking at works I would not have originally considered to be sublime. As a dancer, I came in with preconceived notion of what it would be, and through this lens, I reconsidered what I had originally thought.
Bohman: What are your long term goals?
Heckman: There are many possibilities. The most obvious route is to teach at a university in a department of philosophy. I would love to work in a dual appointment in dance and philosophy. I am still interested in choreographing because I am fascinated with how my choreography can contribute to theorizing, as it has in previous projects. They both deeply inform each other. I would also like reset some older choreography of mine.
Bohman: Are there any other thoughts you would like to share?
Heckman: I chose to pursue a philosophy PhD because there is so much to choose from. It is broad and I have the freedom to cross disciplines within that. Aesthetics and the philosophy of art is a minority portion of the field of philosophy and I am interested in pushing it further along. Dance within this genre of art in philosophy is important. I want to connect it to other parts of discipline—connecting the dots to make it more valued within the field. Philosophy of dance is generating momentum and I am excited to be at the forefront of this important movement.
Photo: Ian Heckman, MA Dance at The College at Brockport