Embodied dialogue

Eeva Anttila

The notion of embodied dialogue is central to the PIMDI understanding of how imaginative dialogues are conceived in practice. The concept relies on Martin Buber’s (1878-1965) work on the relational foundation of human existence, meaning that a human being “becomes an I through a You” (Buber 1970, p. 80). Buber established that there are two kinds of relations: the I–It relation, where the other is an object, separate from I, and the I–You (or Thou) relation, where the other is part of I, but still the other. However, relationality does not only refer to human relationships, as the other does not only refer to another human being but also to an inanimate object, natural phenomenon, artwork, or a spiritual being. In this sense, it is possible to see how Buber’s dialogical philosophy can be seen to operate at the “more-than-human” realms of existence.

Two notions coined by Buber support understanding dialogue as a holistic, embodied phenomenon: Inclusion (alternative translations are embracing or envelopment; umfassung in German) and turning towards the other. Inclusion refers to taking part in the other’s experience, in other words, “experiencing the other side” (Buber 1947, p. 96). Inclusion makes the other person, being, or thing present to the other. Turning towards the other refers to an inner orientation that can be conceived as movement that is initiated from within. This basic movement of turning towards the other, thus, includes both an inner movement and bodily action. The merging of an inner attitude and outer movement integrates the mind and the body and can be understood as the basis for embodied dialogue. Embodied dialogue requires no words. Buber (1947, p. 3) confirms that, “for a conversation no sound is necessary, not even a gesture” and that, “a shared silence can also be dialogue“ (1947, p. 97).


Perhaps most concretely embodied dialogue happens through tactile sense, as in touching another person, being, or thing with sensibility and heightened awareness. In touch, feeling the contact from two sides is possible, with “the palm of one’s own skin,” and also with the other’s skin or surface. However, embodied dialogue may engage all senses, including the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Encountering an artwork may happen through embodied dialogue, where words are not needed for a dialogical relationship to emerge. Caring for or attending to another person with heightened bodily awareness and sensibility is another example.  

In the context of PIMDI, embodied dialogue took many forms. For example, during the first intensive week in Helsinki, Finland, in October 2021, a group of elderly women were invited to meet us and to share their experiences of dancing together as a group. This event included dancing together with them. This encounter was carefully supported by two dance artist-pedagogues, Elli Isokoski and Pauliina Laukkanen. Elli and Pauliina have worked with elderly people and dance for 20 years within their dance company, the Tempest group. The PIMDI participants were offered a possibility to meet the ‘ladies’, as they call themselves through embodied dialogue, through dancing together, and to sense their bodily presence and humanity in a respectful and holistic way.


Embodied dialogue can be considered a key element for the Pedagogy of Imaginative Dialogues because in the context of artistic practice and arts education the notion of dialogue extends beyond language and verbal communication. It can be argued that art operates mainly in the prereflective, prelinquisitic, multimodal and embodied realms of human experience. Embodied dialogue refers to modes of interaction where multimodal channels and semiotic resources beyond verbal language are central.


Buber, M. (1947). Between man and man (R.G. Smith, Trans.). Kegan Paul.

Buber, M. (1970). I and Thou (W. Kaufman, Trans.). T.&T. Clark. Originally published 1937.