Dancing from Past to Present: Nation, Culture, Identities


This groundbreaking collection combines ethnographic and historic strategies to reveal how dance plays crucial cultural roles in various regions of the world, including Tonga, Java, Bosnia-Herzegovina, New Mexico, India, Korea, Macedonia, and England. The essays find a balance between past and present and examine how dance and bodily practices are core identity and cultural creators. Reaching beyond the typically Eurocentric view of dance, Dancing from Past to Present opens a world of debate over the role dance ...

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Dancing from Past to Present: Nation, Culture, Identities

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This groundbreaking collection combines ethnographic and historic strategies to reveal how dance plays crucial cultural roles in various regions of the world, including Tonga, Java, Bosnia-Herzegovina, New Mexico, India, Korea, Macedonia, and England. The essays find a balance between past and present and examine how dance and bodily practices are core identity and cultural creators. Reaching beyond the typically Eurocentric view of dance, Dancing from Past to Present opens a world of debate over the role dance plays in forming and expressing cultural identities around the world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dancing from Past to Present stands alone as an entry to dance and ethnographic studies. An exemplary offering of interdisciplinary scholarship that deserves attention from historians and practitioners."—Thomas DeFrantz, editor of Dancing Many Drums

"A wonderful collage of enquiries and a remarkable view into the discourses of dance history and dance ethnography."—Mohd Anis Md Nor, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

"An inspiring collection of case studies in a series of impressive, long-term ethnographic inquiries. Dancing from Past to Present brings historiography of dance into colourful and exciting new landscapes, adding new territories to our knowledge."—Professor Egil Bakka, Program for dance studies, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780299218546
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Publication date: 1/5/2007
  • Series: Studies in Dance History Series
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 260
  • Sales rank: 909,293
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Theresa Jill Buckland is Research Professor of Performing Arts at De Montfort University, Leicester, England. She is editor of Dance in the Field: Theory, Methods and Issues in Dance Ethnography, coeditor of Aspects of British Calendar Customs, and she has contributed chapters on dance and oral history to Dance History: An Introduction.

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Read an Excerpt

Dancing from Past to Present

Nation, Culture, Identities

Copyright © 2006

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-299-21854-6

Chapter One Dance, History, and Ethnography

Frameworks, Sources, and Identities of Past and Present


Ethnography and history, as methodologies through which dance may be researched, suggest contrasting spheres of space and time. For the dance ethnographer, her or his usual territory is that of the field, where source materials are created through the researcher's systematic description of the transient actions and words of people dancing in the present. For the dance historian, the familiar realm is the archive, where extant sources, often fragmentary and sparse, have been created by people other than the researcher, who now employs their surviving artifacts as testimony to the dancing of the past. Stereotypically, the dance ethnographer investigates the customary dance practices of an aggregate of people, such as an ethnic or cultural group. The dance historian more frequently focuses on individuals or perhaps a dance company, often seeking evidence of innovative rather than consensual activity.

In the twenty-first century, such a neat division into mutually exclusive territories no longer holds; nor indeed, as this book demonstrates, were such strict demarcations ever wholly operative in dance research. Some branches of ethnography, in the Eastern European and Scandinavian disciplines of ethnology, ethnography, and folk life studies, explicitly aimed to document dances from the past by seeking out older ways of life to record for posterity. From the middle of the twentieth century, some historians of dance, influenced by Western European and North American practices of oral history, for example, similarly found sources among the living about dancing that was no longer performed. In pursuing dance research, it has not always been easy, nor necessarily desirable, to ignore the potential benefits to be gained by combining synchronic and diachronic perspectives.

Both ethnography and history may be found interrelated in studies of dance that, for their theoretical and methodological frameworks, are located in anthropology, ethnology, cultural studies, social and cultural history, performance studies, sociology, ethnomusicology, and folklore studies. There are also the hybrid disciplines that clearly indicate their focus on dance, as in dance anthropology, dance ethnology, and ethno-choreology. As a comparatively new subject within academia, dance studies in general draws upon established disciplinary frameworks in which ethnographic and historical methods have already taken on distinctive hues that may not always be immediately evident to the dance researcher's eye. Very often the precise meaning of ethnography and history when applied within a particular discipline may be the result of certain intellectual traditions and geographical circumstances. There is, for example, no consensus about the meaning of the term "ethnography," even within its home disciplinary bases of the social sciences. It is beyond the scope of this introductory chapter to explore the detailed and diverse terrain of disciplinary legacies, differences, and correspondences in their application to dance. But some background to the older traditions of dance ethnography and dance history, together with some reflections on past and present sources and identities of dance, are presented here as a frame through which the essays that constitute this book may be viewed.

Disciplinary Frameworks and Questions of Context

The terms "ethnography" and "history" share the characteristics of referring simultaneously to their practice and to their end result. In most West European and North American practice, ethnography is a methodology that deals with the present and typically concludes in a book known as an ethnographic monograph or ethnography. History-or, more properly, the historical method-similarly signals a methodology but investigates the past to produce a history, also most often in book form. The practice of dance history and the production of dance histories were established features of mainstream dance scholarship for much of the twentieth century.

For most of that period, mainstream dance scholarship in North America concentrated on dance as an art form. This was certainly the case during the late 1960s when dancer and anthropologist Joann Kealiinohomoku wrote her seminal article on ballet as an ethnic form of dance. Research that addressed consensual meanings and the sociocultural contextualization of dance was regarded as the sole concern of anthropologists. Anthropologists, unlike most dance scholars, predominantly studied supposedly oral, homogenous societies that were positioned as "other" to so-called civilized and literate white European and North American society. Oral cultures were believed to possess no history since there were often no literary records to study their pasts. In any case anthropologists sought to understand the present of cultures as holistic systems, an aim for which the methodology of ethnography-documenting and explaining the present-was essential. Culture, in the broad anthropological sense of a discrete systematic totality of socially transmitted beliefs, values, institutions, and practices, became a hugely influential concept across academia in the later twentieth century, even if debate raged over its usefulness as an analytical construct both within and outside its home discipline.

In the 1960s, though, for most dance scholars, the term "culture" had quite another meaning. Culture was instead understood as synonymous with "high" art. This meaning, as elucidated by Victorian literary critic Matthew Arnold, equated culture with "the best which has been thought and said." Such a definition positioned popular or vernacular artistic expression in opposition, so that the category of culture as "high" accorded with the preferred arts of the aristocracy and bourgeoisie. Artifacts and practices eligible for the designation of "culture," furthermore, were evaluated by Eurocentric criteria for the label of "art." This socially hierarchical and evolutionist conception of culture continued to hold sway in the middle of the twentieth century, and most dance scholars were not unusual in professing it. In line with other arts and humanities subjects, those forms and practices deemed by society to possess high aesthetic value were granted primacy as sources for academic investigation. Accordingly, dance forms other than ballet and modern dance were ranked lower in this order of aesthetic values and received less attention.

Those scholars interested in the arts of non-Western cultures, or in forms and practices other than those regarded as high culture, sought theoretical perspectives and methodologies that aimed to circumvent Eurocentric and evolutionist bias. Their work owed much to the outlook of the human sciences, particularly to the discipline of anthropology. In these studies, following classical anthropology, the focus was upon contemporary manifestations of movement in societies that had been colonized and where the retrieval of history was not a priority. Classically trained anthropologists preferred to designate the field of study as that of culturally codified human movement systems. They thus highlighted the fact that the concept of dance was not necessarily universal and underscored anthropological concern with indigenous conceptualizations of dance and related phenomena.

Anthropological thinking had a shaping influence on the discipline of dance ethnology in the dance department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Unlike studies of dance conducted from within departments of anthropology, here there was greater use of literature from the European disciplines of ethnology, ethnography, and folk life studies. In European ethnographic studies of dance, it was not necessary to question what conceptually constituted dance, since the object of inquiry was the dance of one's own culture. Another characteristic of European ethnographic study was the status of the past and its continuing relevance to the present.

In Eastern Europe, much of the research on dance was carried out within the long established and government-funded institutes of ethnology and ethnography, where the folk paradigm continues to dominate. In North America and Western Europe, the concept of "the people" or "the folk" has been subject to considerable critique since the second half of the twentieth century, even where the disciplines of folklore studies and folk life studies have been maintained within the university sector. In this academic context, the early-twentieth-century conceptualizations and practices of anthropology and folk studies have been the subject of political interrogation, especially with respect to their construction in and contribution to the maintenance of power inequalities. If the ongoing legacies of colonialism have been the source of much debate in classical anthropology, in folk studies the major dispute has concerned political affiliations with nationalism. Through this examination, the concept of the folk has been revealed as an ideological construct whereby rural communities and their older practices were perceived by the intelligentsia as survivals from an ancient, pure culture.

This "folk culture" had become a resource for asserting specific ethnic and ultimately national identity and was principally constructed in opposition to European high culture. With respect to dance categorization, cosmopolitan genres such as ballet were positioned as comparatively recent, individually and consciously created sophisticated art forms, in contrast to primitive, simple "natural" folk dances that arose as a collective spontaneous expression of a people's spirit. The songs, dances, poetry, costume, dialect, and so on of the peasantry were collected as relics of antiquity since such expressive forms were believed to be dying out in the advance of modernity. The process and motivation behind this form of cultural rescue archaeology shared similar aims to that of nineteenth-century anthropological activities, and both shared an evolutionist perspective. It was deemed essential to collect the signs of primitive and folk cultures for posterity, before they became contaminated by modern civilization and disappeared in the wake of urbanization and industrialization.

Given the significance of history in nation building and in articulating ancient ethnic identities, a diachronic perspective has been an integral part of folk studies for most of its existence. The political significance of history has ensured a continuous emphasis on selecting dance forms with long histories of performance tied to place or ethnicity. Largely as a result of the political situation when much pioneering work on dance was carried out in Eastern Europe during the Cold War years of 1945-89, the dominant attention was not so much on issues of sociocultural context but on the dance forms themselves.

The past has been granted a differing status in classical forms of anthropology and folk studies, having been viewed as irrelevant to scholarly exegeses of cultural practices in the former and pivotal to those of the latter. As suggested above, however, this broad characterization does not reveal the nuances and exceptions in approach that came increasingly to the fore from the 1970s onward. In the extensive literature in anthropology that does engage with historical perspectives are a number of works on dance such as those by Adrienne Kaeppler, Cynthia Novack, Sally Ann Ness, and Zoila S. Mendoza. In late-twentieth-century writings, proper attention to colonialist legacies has necessitated engagement with the past, not in a naive replacement of the colonizer's histories with those of the colonized, but in a critical recognition of their mutually constitutive nature. Within the broad frame of folk studies, as pursued in North America, Britain, and Scandinavia in particular, challenges to nationalist legacies in the scholarship have resulted in critiques of dance scholarship and practice that have arisen from examination of historical records, both written and oral. Beyond these more established paradigms of anthropology and folk studies, ethnographic and historical perspectives on dance have been utilized within the fields of cultural studies, performance studies, and sociology. A clear indication of growing interest in ethnographic perspectives on dance is the specialized designation of "dance ethnography." The application of this label emerged more purposefully from the New York school of performance studies during the 1990s to indicate a specific focus on dance as embodied cultural knowledge. Exploration of this premise is realized through methodological and theoretical approaches, drawn from feminism and postmodern anthropology to address the distinctive nature of an ethnographic practice that is "necessarily grounded in the body and the body's experience." Elsewhere, as in my own usage of the term, the term "dance ethnography" has been employed as an umbrella term to embrace a variety of intellectual traditions and theoretical positions.

There has been considerable cross-fertilization between disciplines that have traditionally used ethnographic and historical perspectives in the study of dance and increasingly so, following both the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the earlier shift toward dismantling disciplinary boundaries in the arts and humanities in the late twentieth century. Nonetheless, all terms and methodologies have legacies, and it must be remembered that the selection of disciplinary context is fundamental to both methodological procedures and analytical outcomes. The choice of social context through which to investigate dance emerges from the choice of disciplinary context. The social context, however defined, whether as the anthropological understanding of "culture" or as ethnic group in the concept of "the folk," provides both frame and resources for interpretation. The problem with all contexts, of course, is that they are "constructed for specific purposes and thus always negotiable, which makes futile any attempts at defining contexts substantively." This means that it is imperative for researchers and readers to make public the circumstances of their choice and to identify as far as possible ensuing implications for their interpretation of dance.

Ethnography and History: Methodologies and Sources for Dance

The differing contexts of "culture" and "folk," in whatever guise they are utilized as an interpretive framework, lead to differing practices in the methodology of ethnography and in the delineation of the field. Typically, ethnography in classical anthropology has entailed long periods of a year or more living within the selected society, which traditionally has been far from the researcher's normal country of residence. The focus continues to be on the present. In folk studies, in contrast, the researcher tends to work within her or his own country and undertakes more restricted field trips. This latter style is generally characteristic of ethnographic work undertaken in sociology, a discipline in which ethnography has been practiced since the early twentieth century. British sociologist Helen Thomas characterizes ethnography as an

in-depth study of a culture, institution and context over a sustained period of time, which is usually longer for anthropologists than sociologists. Ethnographic research employs a range of methods and techniques such as participant-observation, interviews, filed [sic field] notes, audio and visual recordings and, in the case of dance, movement analysis. The aims of ethnography, the (far/near) relation between representation and reality and the observer and the observed, are subject to debate and largely depend on the theoretical, political and/or methodological stance of the individual researcher.

One thing is clear: ethnography is not a set of methods to collect data. Nor is it value-free description. In anthropology and sociology, the aims of ethnography are to analyze and interpret the perspectives and evaluative concerns of insiders; it is not to impose judgments, explicit or implicit, that are derived from the researcher's own cultural position. In this approach, the fieldwork is normally conducted by an individual. In Eastern European ethnography, the aims have been to observe, document, and analyze the cultural forms as manifestations of past and present ethnic identities. More typically here, the research is conducted by a team composed of specialists in different cultural forms, such as music, song, and costume.


Excerpted from Dancing from Past to Present Copyright © 2006 by The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface     vii
Acknowledgments     xi
Dance, History, and Ethnography: Frameworks, Sources, and Identities of Past and Present   Theresa Jill Buckland     3
Dances and Dancing in Tonga: Anthropological and Historical Discourses   Adrienne L. Kaeppler     25
Constructing a Classical Tradition: Javanese Court Dance in Indonesia   Felicia Hughes-Freeland     52
Utopia, Eutopia, and E.U.-topia: Performance and Memory in Former Yugoslavia   Lynn D. Maners     75
Qualities of Memory: Two Dances of the Tortugas Fiesta, New Mexico   Deidre Sklar     97
Dancing through History and Ethnography: Indian Classical Dance and the Performance of the Past   Janet O'Shea     123
Interpreting the Historical Record: Using Images of Korean Dance for Understanding the Past   Judy Van Zile     153
Romani Dance Event in Skopje, Macedonia: Research Strategies, Cultural Identities, and Technologies   Elsie Ivancich Dunin     175
Being Traditional: Authentic Selves and Others in Researching Late-Twentieth-Century Northwest English Morris Dancing   Theresa Jill Buckland     199
Selected Further Reading     231
Contributors     239
Index     241
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