by Dena Davida

Conceived in the aftermath of a seminar which provided an intense immersion into the philosophical debates permeating occidental arts and cultures, this paper explores a crucial methodological element of my doctoral dance ethnography-in-progress:  the dance event framework.   This concept emerged in the 1970s in the writings and teachings of Euro-American dance anthropologists to facilitate the study of non-art dances, the so-called “ethnic”, “folk” and “social” dances[1].  Discussion of Western art dances have been traditionally the exclusive province of critics, historians and philosophers.  What happens when this dance event framework is employed in a study of postmodern art dance?   Do new understandings emerge when these art dances are reconsidered as social and cultural practices?

The “dance event framework” was originally an intuitive and practical choice of methodology for my doctoral project, an evident choice from my standpoint as a dance programmer.  The idea of “performing arts events” is actually common coinage in my practice.  Although the term was not created by Western programmers from the same bases or for the same reasons as it was developed by Western anthropologists, there is certainly an area of mutual understanding (more on this later).

Since realizing that it would be possible to collect a massive amount of data on Montreal postmodern dance (locally called nouvelle danse), it was clear that I needed some parameters with which to contain the collection.  But what is the meaning of moving this anthropological lens over from its original intended subjects, the social dancers, to what is habitually the focus of attention of critics and philosophers, the art dancers?  And why is this perspective considered unusual among dance researchers?  In the premier issue of the journal Social Research Methodology,  Lyons cautions against “sloppy borrowing techniques across disciplines and over time”[2].  Although he was discussing questionnaire formats for social scientists, his warning seems to me a timely one for this inter-disciplinary moment in academic research.

After reconstructing a short history of the “dance event” concept, I will explore some of the implications of using this framework to understand postmodern dances.  Several ideas are at the core of this discussion:  that when considering these dances a part of the dance event their ethnicity and social functions will be foregrounded;  their value and meanings will be determined (though not equally or to the same effect) in accordance with their social function as understood by event participants;  and finally, that this study will become an interdisciplinary site in which dialogue is fostered between the researcher and dance event participants, and also among their varying views and beliefs.

A short note before beginning in earnest.  This philosophical kind of text has proved to be a challenging exercise for this anthropologist and dance pedagogue.  This writing has been long and laborious as I struggled to reconcile my favoured empirical and kinesthetic ways of knowing with the more rational workings of pure thought.  Sitting still for hours at a time has been a physical challenge!  Every word it seems has had to be weighed for its plausibility, every phrase for its logic.  My characteristic sense of irony and the fluidity of my usual poetic style of essay writing has been sacrificed temporarily as I learn to master philosophical form.  But after all, one of my core beliefs, as well as of many Western art dancers, has long been the inseparability of body/mind ( a concept that always brings to mind Yvonne Rainer’s minimalist dance manifesto “The mind is a muscle”).  And the effort has seemed more than worthwhile, as I have moved slowly but surely towards clarifying a few of the philosophical bases of this ethnographic undertaking.

Historical origins of the dance event concept

It would be difficult to undertake a discussion of the dance event without a working definition of dance.  Cross-cultural definitions for the concept of dance have been the site of continual debates among dance anthropologists.  The only point of agreement has been the necessity of understanding the concept (when it exists at all!) from the dance practitioners themselves, a basic tenet of the field of anthropology.  Definitions fall generally into two camps:  one group agrees that dance is an extra-ordinary expressive form of the body in motion which is present in all cultures, patterned and purposeful;  or for another group, the belief that there is no universal recognition of the phenomenon (of dance) in all cultures and that it cannot always be differentiated from other kinds of expressive physical activities in a given culture.[3]  In order to discuss the “dance event framework”, I will ally myself with the first group of definitions, but will only make claims for viability among Western art dancers, and Montreal postmodern dancers in particular.  Since I am practicing anthropology “at home”, I am one of my own native informants and you can rest assured that the ideas expressed here represent the notion of dance from at least one native viewpoint.

The concept of the dance event was first suggested by American anthropologist Joann Kealiinohomoku, and later elaborated in her definitive doctoral theses “Theory and Methods for an Anthropological Study of Dance” in 1976.[4]  It is interesting to note that “It was the field of music, primarily ethnomusicology, that largely nurtured and finally mid-wifed this field”[5], as only a few cultural anthropologists at the time (with the notable exceptions of Franziska Boas[6], Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, and Claire Holt) considered dancing to be a significant aspect of the societies they were studying.  And so, Kealiinohomoku began to construct her dance event model by transposing ideas from the adjacent field of folklore studies (which included ethnomusicology) and particularly their discussions about the storytelling event.[7]

A first definition was fleshed out in her doctoral thesis, in which she hypothesizes that a given dance culture is a microcosm of the larger surrounding culture — a recurring theme in dance ethnographies.  She employs the idea of culture in the broad anthropological sense of “the presence of human societies made up of behaving human beings […] “.  In consequence she posits that ” […] an adequate study of a dance culture includes the relevant personnel, their behavior, the entire mise-en-scène of the dance event, and knowledge of the larger cultural universe and population”.  She argues that an adequate analysis of the dance event requires answers to the questions of who (concept)? what (phenomenon)? when (time)? where (space)? and why (function)?  A special emphasis is placed on the function of the three groups of personnel integral to the event:  non-dancing participants, the dancer assigned to executing the dance itself, and the dance maker.  In further evidence of her view that dance is a social activity in which a complex of non-dancing participants play an important role, Kealiinohomoku claims that these participating non-dancers appear in every dance culture, that few dancers dance except at social events (with only exceptional instances of private dancing), and that dancers thrive on responses from their peers and other viewers in order to maintain self-concept and ongoing status[8].

In this thesis, she even seems to have anticipated my current questions about the status of postmodern art dancing within this dance event concept, by having distinguished a “contained” from an “extended” dance event.  Her “contained” dance event is characterized as:  often theatrically oriented, having a recognizable beginning and conclusion, able to be studied in isolation from its social function, requiring a limited number of skilled practitioners, bounded by a limited piece of time, and one which probably doesn’t depend on an extreme use of repetition for its effectiveness (as does trance or ritual dance, for instance)[9].  This description of the contained event provides me with a first set of elements for the study of a postmodern dance event.  Although her thesis abounds with descriptions and theories arising from dance cultures outside of the Western high art paradigm, Occidental classical ballet and ballerinas figure as recurring points of reference, opening the fledgling field of dance anthropology to modern and postmodern dance scholars and practitioners with an interest in cultural meanings.

This period at the end of the seventies proved to be a fertile moment in the human sciences, for Anya Peterson Royce also published a first book-length discussion of the discipline The Anthropology of Dance [10].  At this time, dance ethnology (as the Americans called it then) had embraced a wide array of theories about the nature of dancing:  dance as a form of human communication[11], dance as a social or spiritual function of society[12], dance as a kind of “cultural performance” [13], dance as a structured system of human movement (semiotics) [14], dance as safety valve (the catharsis theory) and instrument of social solidarity[15], and the related idea of dance as social regulator or agent of change[16].  Royce raises the question of how to contend with the differences between competing theories, and then proposes the “dance event unit” as a response to this splintering of dance views:

[…] part of our difficulty in coming to terms with definitions is our tendency to separate the form of dance from its context, and […] to use form as the primary basis for defini-tions. We can resolve much of the difficulty by thinking in terms of dance events  […] rather than of dances and dancing […] taking whole events as units of analysis […][17]

In other words, when dances are understood as a product of their cultural environment,  their nature is revealed within their relationship to society.  Throughout her book she uses the dance event unit as a foundation for her analysis of particular dance forms, providing in-depth examples of this methodology from her own and other’s fieldwork.

As for the difficulty of distinguishing the boundaries of the dance event that separate it from the general flow of social life, she invokes, once again, the necessity of seeking those ideas which are relevant to the dances and societies in question[18].  And so Royce re-articulates a continuing motif/belief of dance anthropologists, that dances can only be coherently understood in cultural context and from the “insider” viewpoint of its practitioners (event participants).

Another of the early pioneers in the field, Allegra Fuller Snyder remembers the early seventies as a period still lacking in theoretical clarity and synthesis for dance anthropology, and one of preoccupation with the (cultural) contextualization of dancing.  She was trying at the time to develop a curriculum for a first programme in dance ethnology within the Dance Department of the University of California (UCLA).  A bewildering number of factors were being proposed for inclusion in the context for dances.  “Inspired by the frustration of the students, one day I burst into [my] class in the late 1970s with a concept which has become known as ‘the levels paper'” (see figure 2 in annex).  She had constructed a dance event model which offered a structural hierarchy of seven levels of concepts.

These levels included a large number of analytic approaches encompassing cultural, social, symbolic, kinesthetic, kinemic (units of movement) factors.  Each of the first six contained a specific application of time and space, notions which were finally fused through the “energy event” at level seven.  And each event level was defined in terms of its structure and function.  Into one elegant, orderly structure she had manage to pulled together numerous analytic strategies, or “levels of attention” as she calls them, from the macro world view to the micro smallest unit of movement [19].  In an later paper Snyder elaborated on other significant features of her model.  She defined a level as a means of “slicing through an experience”.  Each level is defined by a particular parameter of time/space, is independent and unique among the others, a system unto itself, and the site for a specific kind of information.  She expresses the same desire as Royce, that is to find a holistic approach that ” […] pulls together some of the otherwise overwhelming ideas that seem to be inherent in an event, and give perspective to dance in relationship to that macro event.”  But cautioning against the excesses of structuralism, she warns against the dangers of trying to fit the units of information together in a neat, systematic fashion[20].  Her model is a reminder of complexity and density of the phenomena within a single dance event, and the necessity of carefully choosing the level(s) of attention appropriate to the particular dance study at hand.

Early dance ethnologists found affinities not only with ethnomusicologists and other folklorists, but also with avant-garde “performance” theorists working in the field of theatre.  This historical affinity and interchange among performing arts researchers and practitioners with an interest in anthropology merits further study.  And so it was again in the effervescence of the late seventies that Richard Schechner published Performance Theory based on essays he had written between 1970 and 1976.  This book provided the basis for Performance Studies, a programme he created and directs at the TISCH School of the Arts at New York University.  His ideas provided the metaphor of “cultural performance” that has permeated many other fields in the humanities.

For Allegra Fuller Snyder, Schechner’s book provided a much-needed theoretical foundation for her own courses in dance ethnology [21].  In Chapter 5 “Toward a poetics of performance”, Schechner briefly, but significantly, outlines the nature of an event framework which he describes as “a basic performance structure of gathering/performing / dispersing”, drawing on his on-going dialogue with anthropologist Victor Turner and Turner’s view of performance as a collective imperative.  Schechner contends that the purpose of this structure is to provide society “[…] a nest [to support conflict] built from the agreement to gather at a specific time and place, to perform–to do something agreed on–and to disperse once the performance is over”.  He then draws a parallel between this basic performance structure and the idea of a theatrical performance as a special ritualistic moment for society, replete with micro-behaviors:

[…] special observances, practices, and rituals that lead into the performance and away from it.  Not only getting to the theater district, but entering the building itself involves ceremony:  ticket-taking, passing through gates, performing rituals, finding a place from which to watch.  All this — and the procedures vary from culture to culture, event to event — frames and defines the performance.  Ending the show and going away also involves ceremony:  applause or some formal way to conclude the performance and wipe away the reality of the show re-establishing itself in its place the reality of everyday life.  The performers even more than the audience prepare and then, when the show is over, undertake “cooling off” procedures.[22]

This discussion of theatrical events is developed in accordance with Turner’s notion of “social dramas”, units of social process which deal with conflict[23].  Schechner’s Western “theatrical frame” is presented as an analogous process to Turner’s social dramas.  But in the case of theatrical dramas, these symbolic aesthetic performances serve as a site for transformation in view of promoting homeostasis.[24]  My interest in Schechner’s model lies with it’s view of artistic performance as a purposeful cultural event, and the way in which it draws parallels and crosses boundaries between art and non-art “cultural performances”.

From reviewing these four definitions of the dance (theatrical) event framework, it has become clear that these concepts benefited from a positivist ethos, a certainty that a master theory could be found from which the nature of the performing arts in all societies could be determined.  In this formative period of dance ethnology, just prior to the predominance of the post-structuralist “new ethnography”, this tone of universalistic optimism seemed to prevail.  Just as certainly as anthropologists had turned away from outdated evolutionary ideas in the wake of post-colonialism after World War II, they began searching with fervor for cross-cultural paradigms to heal the now-perceived rift between “them” and “us”.  Ethnographer George Marcus reminds us that this “yearning for unbroken community has been a long one” and is in fact a European tradition[25]   But within the texts of these seventies theorists, post-structuralist doubts were already arising about the ability of any Western-fashioned theory to comprehend non-Western point of view.

The persistent tradition of separating Western art dances from their cultural contexts

In 1970 Kealiinohomoku penned her challenge to Western dance historians, “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance”, arguing that classical ballet cannot be considered as either universal or international because it is as culture-bound as all other dance forms[26].  This led to a landmark conference in 1972 of the North American academic dance clan The Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) called “Dance and Anthropology”.  Dance historians and anthropologists finally rubbed elbows and began to engage in cross-disciplinary dialogue.  So why is it that nearly thirty years later almost no one has taken up Kealiinohomoku’s call to reveal the cultural contexts of ballet’s historical progeny, modern and postmodern dance?  Marcus and Myers recently suggested that one answer lies in the persistant division of labour that has established itself in academia between anthropologists and art historians[27], who until recently stuck to their respective conceptual territories of non-Western art (in the East and West) and Western art (mainly in “First World” countries).

It is true that many Western dance anthropologists, especially those with experience in Western art dancing, have occasionally referred to classical ballet and modern dance in developing their cross-cultural arguments.  An early example is Gertrude Kurath, considered by many in the field as a founder of American dance anthropology, in her 1965 “Dance in Modern Culture”.  In this essay, she briefly discusses how form and content in the Modern Dance reflect specific themes in Amercian culture[28].  But these sporadic and fragmented references to Western art dancing have most often been employed by anthropologists to clarify definitions and boundaries of non-art and non-Western concepts of dance, and to elucidate what these dances are not.  As well, these references are frequently accompanied by warnings against the ethnocentrism inherent in applying this “Western category”, and its attendant presumptions, to an analysis of non-Western dances[29].

Marcus and Meyers go so far as to claim that (Western) anthropologists in their suspicion of the commonsense category of art as an autonomous and special domain in their own  culture “have largely failed even to recognize modern art’s own internal ‘assault on tradition’ and challenge of boundaries”[30].  This reluctance of Western dance anthropologists, and surprisingly even those who were formerly professional dancers, to venture with notepad and tape recorder into the sacred studios and theatres of Western art dancers, is reflected by the near absence of available writing of this kind.  I have thus far only located a single published ethnography of a Western art dance form[31], and one ethnographic analysis of a contemporary performing arts festival[32].  But I will soon follow clues that a Brazilian dance researcher (who I met at a recent conference) has been amassing an ethnography over seven years of contemporary dance in São Paulo, and that there is a newly published ethnography (finally!) of a classical ballet company.

On the other side of the dance writing divide, some Western historians, philosophers and critics (both cultural and journalistic) of Western art dances claim to have included anthropological strategies when giving historical context to their writing, and when inscribing audience reaction into their evaluations of dances.  When lately called upon to evaluate non-Western dance performances on Western stages, some dance critics (but not the phenomenon-ologically oriented) call upon the advice of ethnomusicologists.

In North America at this particular moment, some of these art dance connaisseurs seem indeed to be turning their attention to the cultural contexts of dances, presumably in light of the social and political influence of “identity politics”.  A notable example of this tendency is well-respected New York dance critic Deborah Jowitt’s Time and the Dancing Image,  a personal project born from a historian’s curiousity about the social and cultural climate’s effect on dance aesthetics:  ” [while watching dance performances] I imagined myself an anthropologist skulking in ambush, observing the activities of members of a hitherto undiscovered tribe […] “[33].  Jowitt’s mental game, although not the picture of anthropology in postmodern times, gave her impetus to widen the limits of her usual phenomenological attention to the dancing moment.  But according to her appendixes and acknowledgments, it did not lead her out of the library and into fieldwork (but for attendance at a few dance classes);  the sources of her text were her own memories and other’s written accounts of performances.

Like Jowitt, most dance historians and critics don’t seem to venture too deeply into the field and are not familiar with anthropological theory and practices.  In the end, they remain devoted to the authority of the choreography itself and to their own account of events, not sharing the ethnographer’s obsession with “getting into the skin” of their protagonists.  The literary turn in ethnography also appears to be leading out of the field and back to the armchair, as cultural analysis and criticism are being developed in reference to other writing and usually in isolation from too much direct contact with the subjects under study.

Postmodern dance events:  theory and practice

The concept of dance events most certainly exists in the Western art dance world.  As mentioned above, postmodern dance programmers and dance anthropologists have some degree of mutual understanding about what they call “dance events”, although rooted in different experiences and puposes.  If I am any example as someone who is committed to both fields, there is agreement that these events involve large networks of both dancing and non-dancing participants, depend on subjective human interaction for their value, and are shaped by social and political institutions.  The dances themselves are understood by both parties to be meaningful not in themselves as objective entities, but only inasmuch as they are presented to audiences.  Even though this idea is rarely articulated in the public discourse of these programmers and anthropologists, the evaluation of these postmodern dances is known by all as a complex and subjective process that involves many categories of participants (audience, critics, juries, etc.).

An extensive network of these events (single performances, dance series and festivals) and theatres is proliferating around the world to support the presentation of Western-styled art dances (and other performing arts which have adapted to these stages) to audiences, much for the same purposes as galleries and museums display art objects.

For society-at-large, these performance events are usually either thought of as beginning when the stage is lit and the dance begins and being resolved as the lights go down, signaling the ending of the choreography.  In the general perception, participants include only the dancers on stage and the audience in the “house”.  Even in the case of festivals, the event is thought of as a dense cluster of these performances, at best including a few additional public activities such as talks with artists or workshops.  Vital aspects of the event framework (as discussed above), such as social and cultural forces and non-dancing participants other than audience members, remain invisible in the public mind, and certainly a separate consideration from an understanding of the dances themselves.

Little importance or status, or any attention at all, is usually given by philosophers and critics of this Western artistic dance to what Kealiinohomoku called non-dancing participants.  Audiences are commonly “surveyed” by social scientists for purposes of increasing box office revenues, and a few academics pursue the study of what they call “reception theory” in view of arguing to include the audience’s viewpoint in the analysis of meaning for art.  But the other members of sociologist Howard Becker’s artworld[34] –in this case technicians, box office personnel, costume designers, programmers, parents and teachers of dancers, administrators, publicists and so on — are not seen as having any impact on the meaning or value of dances.  “Meaning” in this critical view refers to the interpretation of the choreography, and not to the import of the dances on the lives of event participants.

Following in the wake of the New Criticism movement of the fourties, postmodern dances are most often discussed by their critics (both cultural and journalistic) in objective terms, with the conviction that the dance exists independently of any factors outside of itself.  Larry Lavendar, a dance scholar who promotes this view, explains its features to educators:

” […] the New Critics argued that meanings reside in and are carried by the structure of works of art independently of viewers […] and may be recovered by the astute critic who attends carefully to the work. […]  Affective responses, artists’ accounts, and extrinsic information about the topography of the work’s cultural milieu or the artists’ ‘background’ were considered irrelevant”.[35]

In actual practice, this New Critic’s viewpoint is not generally shared by participants in the dance event.  In the postmodern dance world, each audience member enters the theatre with a distinct set of beliefs about the dance honed from his/her social environment;  the organizing group experiences the event as an on-going project which spans the moment of its conception to the final financial report;  for the dancers, the dance is an intense spiritual and physical commitment to a choreographer’s vision which begins when they are hired and ends with the last performance;  the technical crew literally constructs several layers of the choreography’s aesthetic as they craft the stage lighting and sound;  and so on.  For these groups of people, postmodern dances are experienced as art-making processes and rarely considered as objective artworks.

When finally the anthropological “dance event framework” is placed over these postmodern dance events, quite a different set of meanings and values appear which are more commonly assigned to non-art dances.  For instance, a choreography might be valued not only for its aesthetic properties, but for its contribution to the lives of the performers and technicians, its power as an allegory of contemporary life, its ability to affirm the social and ethnic identities of its audience and even for its effectiveness in promoting the community’s homeostasis!  Can a postmodern dance be seen to function in these ways?  Although at present an uncommon idea among critics and philosophers, I believe that it is possible to consider postmodern dances as purposeful social activities without threatening their status as special and extra-ordinary.  This view does however challenge their autonomy.

The ethnicity of postmodern dances

The national and ethnic identities of postmodern dances, and well as their local environment, are influencial factors in their conception and interpretation.

For instance, it has been common practice in the postmodern dance world (and since the advent of modern dance) to think of certain features and styles of these art dances as national or local characteristics (British New Dance, nouvelle danse québécoise,  Dutch Dance, downtown New York dance, and so on).  International festivals and dance presentation series are devoted to the display of diverse trends in contemporary experimental dance, but usually favour “national” artists in their programming choices.  Critics and other dance writers at these events commonly include in their descriptions and evaluations ideas about perceived culture-specific features of choreographers.  From my longtime empirical experience as a postmodern dance programmer, I know for certain that this “dance nationalism” is encouraged and rewarded by most political systems, who often employ these artists in the role of cultural ambassadors and emblems of modernity.

But at the same time, as the saying goes, global forces have been at work.  Extensive migration and networking within this postmodern dance world has accelerated for economic and political reasons, and the national identity and ethnicity of many Western art dance companies has become a hybrid one.  International choreographic competitions, performing arts fairs and festivals have fostered a set of universal(ist) criteria for evaluation of art dances and dancers, albeit with individual and local interpretations, such as quality, integrity and originality.

Along with considerations of nationality, ethnicity and status in the international dance marketplace, I believe that the nature of the more immediate environment (often a large urban community) in which a choreographer works is significant in shaping the dance.

Many aspects of this physical and social surround have direct impact on the aesthetics of the dance:  the type of studio and theatre space available, the kinds of audiences, local expectations about the dances, the local dance history.

The European danse d’auteur  and the American artiste engagé

As a result of twentieth century modernism’s imperative to make it new, European postmodern dance has spawned a Romantic concept called danse d’auteur  which is quickly gaining common currency on the international scene.  An understanding of this image of the choreographer-auteur  underlies much of the dance-making today, and is currently essential for all dance-makers who wish to become part of the powerful European dance presentation networks.  This concept has defined a set of criteria from which contemporary choreography is now evaluated.

Arising in France from a mixture of several schools of French philosophy — including existentialism, semiotics and structuralism — this literary metaphor has instigated its ethos throughout the larger postmodern dance world.  Here is a cogent definition by Italian critic Leonetta Bentivoglio:

Danse d’auteur  would be equivalent, then, to cinéma d’auteur:  an original construction of ideas and corresponding signs.  The choreographer constructs, just like the director-auteur  does within the parameters of film language, a scaffolding that is no longer simply choreographic and aesthetic but also theoretical or philosophical, ideological or political:  coherently existential.  He creates a perspective, a vision of the world, that fully reflects him:  beyond any technical recognizability.  He reinvents the dance material, molding it according to direction and form dictated only by his own expressive needs.  And he frees the dancer’s body, to this end, from the conditioning premise of an objectifiable code, capable of being adopted and used by other choreographers.[36]

The choreographer is exhorted to inventively “reconstruct” the dance in her/his own image, as if doing so will lead to “emancipating the body”.  The scope of this paper doesn’t permit further interpretations of this dance view (perhaps a task I will take on in the doctoral project).  What is useful to note here is that this dance-making philosophy clearly favours individual vision over cultural identity and the notion of social context is confined to the microcosm of the dancer’s own “vision of the world”, but in isolation from intercourse with the larger surrounding society.

This European-born ethos imposes itself in sharp contrast to the current American emphasis on political relevance, and the importance of content concerned with issues of gender, race and class.  The choreographic endeavor is not seen to be a private affair, but is extended through the custom of “residencies”, activities related to the choreography offered by the dance company to various sectors of the local community as they go on tour.  The American ideology also stresses inventiveness, but not at the expense of social import.  Other dance views are also promoted in the postmodern dance world, such as choreography as a vehicle for spiritual renewal, but these two views seem to predominate the international dance marketplace at present.

The dance event framework and all of its implications would then fit quite comfortably into an ethnography of American-style socially engaged dances, but may create conceptual difficulties when employed in writing about the self-sufficient European auteurs .  Montreal nouvelle danse  provides a mixture of the two, in reflection of Quebec society’s bi-cultural makeup.

Value and meaning determined through “evaluation systems”

Another outcome of viewing postmodern dances within the dance event framework is that their value and meaning are interpreted through a dialogue between the ethnographer and a wide range of the dance event participants, as s/he attempts to discern the native viewpoint.

There are of course dances in the world whose value is clearly determined by a single designated expert or group of experts.  In the case of post-modern art dances however, standards for determining value and meaning are actually dynamic social constructions, rather than solely the province of politically or intellectually influential décideurs.  Each category of dance event participant contributes to this evaluation process in a particular way.  The audience response determines the popular success of a dance event, the critics are considered to be consumer avocates with heightened expertise in judging aesthetic worth, dance programmer’s preferences by-and-large determine the circumstances under which dances are publicly presented, and so on.  In the course of my doctoral research, I hope to identify the elements and functionings of this complex evaluation system.

There is even a role within this event model for those philosophers and critics with universalistic (and other kinds of) claims for art.  They can be seen to be a specific category of non-dancing participants who serve to impact indirectly on the beliefs of other members of the dance event such as programmers, audiences and state sponsors.

I also believe that this dance event model will cause an overlapping of boundaries between competing views held by members of the postmodern dance world.  Most ethnographic enterprises, such as those guided by the dance event unit, also imply some kind of fieldwork as well as “armchair reflection”.  They engage the researcher in close observation and dialogue with his/her subjects.  The ethnographic story of a dance event is thus an interdisciplinary enterprise, inevitably intermingling the researcher’s own ethos with those of the larger community of researchers (in her field) and event participants (in the field).


This exploration of the dance event concept has reconfirmed the complexity and the vitality of this model as a framework for a postmodern dance ethnography.  By looking at these dances as socially meaningful activities defined by a specific historical moment, cultural place and purpose, it may be possible to articulate at least one set of answers to one of postmodern dancers’ pervasive question “Why are we dancing?”


Bibliography of sources cited

Becker, Howard.  1992.  Art Worlds.  Berkeley, University of California Press.

Bentivoglio, Leonetta.  “Danse d’auteur,” Ballett international,  April 1989, pp. 16-19.

Boas, Franziska.  1944 (republished in 1971).  The function of dance in human society, New York, The Boas School.

Hanna, Judith Lynne.  1979.  To Dance is Human:  A Theory of Nonverbal Communication,  Austin/London, University of Texas Press, 327 pp.

Kaeppler, Arienne.  1985 (first published in 1977).  “Structured movement systems in Tonga”, Society and the Dance,  Paul Spencer, ed., New York/London, Cambridge University Press, pp. 92-118.

Kealiinohomoku, Joann M. W.  1969-70.  “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance, Impulse: Extensions of Dance  no. 20, pp. 24-33.

_______________.  1972.  “Folk Dance”.  Folklore and Folklife:  An Introduction,  Chicago/London, University of Chicago Press, pp. 381-403.

_______________.  1976.  Theory and Methods for an Anthropological Study of Dance.  Unpublished doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 375 pp.

Jowitt, Deborah.  1988.  Time and the Dancing Image, New York, William Morrow and Company, 431 pp.

Kurath, Gertrude Prokosch.  1965.  “Dance in Modern Culture”, The Commonwealth of Music, in Honor of Curt Sachs,  New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, pp. 343-366;  later reprinted in 1986 in the collection Half a Century of Dance Research:  Essays by Gertrude Prokosch Kurath, Flagstaff (Arizona), Cross Cultural Dance Resources, pp. 383-406.

Keappler, Adrienne L.  1985.  “Structured movement systems in Tonga”, Society and the Dance,  Paul Spencer, ed., Cambridge (U.K.)/Melbourne/New York, Cambridge University Press, pp. 92-118.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.  1995.  “Confusing Pleasures”, The Traffic in Culture:  Refiguring Art and Anthropology,  ed. George Marcus and Fred Meyers, Berkeley/Los Angleles, University of California Press, 380 pp.

Lange, Roderyk.  1975.  The Nature of Dance:  An Anthropological Perspective,  London,  MacDonald and Evans Ltd., 142 pp.

Lavendar, Larry.  “Challenges to Author- and Viewer-centered Theories”, Proceedings from Continents in Movement:  New Trends in Dance Teaching Conference,  October 15-18, 1998, Oeiras (Portugal), pp. 200-206.

Marcus, George & Fred Meyers, eds.  1995.  The Traffic in Culture:  Refiguring Art and Anthropology,  Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, University of California Press,  380 pp.

Nahachewsky, Andrij.  1997.  “Conceptual Categories of Ethnic Dance”, Canadian Dance Studies 2,  Toronto (Ontario), York University, pp. 137-148.

Novak, Cynthia.  1990.  Sharing the Dance:  Contact Improvisation and American Culture,  Madison (Wisconsin),  University of Madison Press, 258 pp.

Royce, Anya Peterson.  1977.  The Anthropology of Dance, Bloomington/London, Indiana University Press, 238 pp.

Snyder, Allegra Fuller.  1988.  “Levels of Event Patterns:  A Theoretical Model Applied to the Yaqui Easter Ceremonies”.  Proceedings of The Dance Event:  A Complex Cultural Phenomenon, 15th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology, Copenhagen.

_______________.  1992.  “Past, Present and Future”.  UCLA Journal of Dance Ethnology,  volume 16, 1992, pp. 1-28.

Spencer, Paul, ed.  1985.  Society and the Dance,  New York/London,

Cambridge University Press, 224 pp.

Schechner, Richard.  1988 (first published in 1977).  Performance Theory,  London/New York, Routledge, 304 pp.

Turner, Victor.  1982.  From Ritual to Theater,  New York, Performing Arts Journal Press.

Williams, Drid.  1991.  Ten Lectures on Dance,  Metuchen, New Jersey, Scarecrow Press.


[1] The meanings and consequences of these terms have been hotly debated and redefined throughout the short history of (at least North American) dance anthropology.  For an in-depth discussion of the underlying assumptions in the concept of “folk dance” see Joann Wheeler Kealiinohomoku, “Folk Dance”, Folklore and Folklife:  An Introduction,  Chicago/London, University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 381-403;  and for her much-discussed challenge to the idea of an “ethnic dance” in opposition to “art dances”, read “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance”, Impulse: Extensions of Dance, 1969-70, pp. 24-33.  Another source of clarification in Andriy Nahachewsky, “Conceptual Categories of Ethnic Dance”, Canadian Dance Studies 2,  Toronto (Ontario), York University, 1997.

[2] William Lyons, “Beyond agreement and disagreement:  the inappropriate use of Likert items in the applied research”, International Journal of Social Research Methodology,  1998, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 75.

[3] Each of the books and articles on dance anthropology listed in the bibliography offer a discussion on the definition of dance.  One of the strongest proponents of the second group of definitions, who prefers to call the field “human movement studies” and not dance, is Drid Williams who develops her theory in Ten Lectures on Dance, Metuchen (New Jersey), Scarecrow Press, 1991.

[4] Joann M. W. Kealiinohomoku , “Theory and Methods for an Anthropological Study of Dance”, unpublished doctoral thesis, Indiana University, 1976, pp. 233-245.

[5] Allegra Duller Snyder, “Past, Present and Future”, UCLA Journal of Dance Ethnology,  1992, volume 16, p. 5.

[6] Franziska Boas, the daughter of well-known anthropologist Franz Boas, organized two symposia on dance in culture, and she published proceedings of the first as The function of dance in human society,  New York, The Boas School, 1944 (republished in 1971).

[7] Joann Kealiinohomoku (resource person), telephone interview by Dena Davida, Montreal, Quebec,  May 10, 1999.

[8] Kealiinohomoku, Theory and Methods, op. cit., pp.233-239.


[10] Anya Peterson Royce, The Anthropology of Dance, Bloomington, Indiana/London, Indiana University Press, 1977.

[11] Judith Lynne Hanna, To Dance is Human:  A Theory of Nonverbal Communication,  Austin/London, University of Texas Press, 1979.

[12] Roderyk Lange,  The Nature of Dance:  An Anthropological Perspective, London, MacDonald and Evans Ltd., 1975, pp. 92-93.

[13] This metaphor was created and developed into a field of study currently called Performance Studies.  See Richard Schechner, Performance Theory, London/New York, Routledge, 1988 (first published in 1977)

[14] Adrienne L. Kaeppler, “Structured movement systems in Tonga”, Society and the Dance, edited by Paul Spencer, New York/London, Cambridge University Press, 1985 (first published in 1977), pp. 92-118.

[15] Paul Spencer, “Introduction:  Interpretations of the dance in anthropology”, Society and the Dance,  ed. Paul Spencer, op. cit.,  pp. 1-46.

[16] Peter Brinson, “Epilogue:  Anthropology and the study of dance”, Society and the Dance,  ed. Paul Specer, op. cit.,  pp. 206-214.

[17] Royce, op. cit.., p. 10.

[18] Royce, op. cit., p. 12.

[19] Snyder, op. cit., p. 9.

[20] Allegra Fuller Snyder, “Levels of Event Patterns:  A Theoretical Model Applied to the Yaqui Easter Ceremonies”, The Dance Event:  A Complex Cultural Phenomenon,  15th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Ethnochoreology, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1988, pp. 1-20.

[21] Snyder, “Past, Present and Future”, op. cit., p. 8.

[22] Schechner, op. cit.,  pp. 168-169.

[23] This anthropologist turned his attention to ritual and theatre, both as a metaphor of social process and as cultural event.  An early book, often citied by Schechner and many dance anthropologists is Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theater,  New York, Performing Arts Journal Press, 1982.

[24] Schechner, Performance Theory, op. cit., pp. 169-170.

[25] George Marcus and Fred R. Myers, “The Traffic in Art and Culture:  An Introduction”, The Traffic in Culture:  Refiguring Art and Anthropology, Berkeley/Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1995, p. 14.

[26] Kealiinohomoku, “Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance”, op. cit.

[27] Marcus and Myers, op. cit., p. 8.

[28] Kurath, Gertrude Prokosch, “Dance in Modern Culture”, The Commonwealth of Music, in Honor of Curt Sachs,  New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1965, pp. 343-366. (Reprinted by Joann Kealiinohomoku in Half a Century of Dance Research:  Essays by Gertrude Prokosch Kurath, Flagstaff, Arizona, Cross Cultural Dance Resources, 1986,  pp. 383-406).

[29] There are frequent discussions about this problem in the literature of dance anthropology, and many cross-cultural definitions of dance include “and it is recognized as dance by its practitioners”.  One of the most insistant arguements can be found in Adrienne L. Kaeppler’s “Structured movement systems in Tonga”, Society and the Dance,  Paul Spencer, ed., Cambridge (U.K.)/Melbourne/New York, Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp. 92-118.

[30] Marcus and Meyers, op. cit., p. 6

[31] Cynthia Novak, Sharing The Dance:  Contact Improvisation and American Culture, Madison (Wisconsin), University of Madison Press, 1999.

[32] Barabara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Confusing Pleasures”, The Traffic in Culture, op. cit., pp. 224-255.

[33] Deborah Jowitt, Time and the Dancing Image,  New York, William Morrow and Company, 1988, p. 7.

[34] Howard Becker, Art Worlds,  Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982, p. 1.  In Becker’s concept of “the art world”, artwork is seen as a form of cooperation through networks that produce patterns of collective activity.

[35] Larry Lavendar, “Challenges to Author- and Viewer-centered Theories”, Proceedings from Continents in Movement:  New Trends in Dance Teaching Conference,  October 15-18, 1998, Oeiras (Portugal), p. 203.

[36] Bentivoglio, Leonetta, “Danse d’auteur,” Ballett international,  April 1989, p. 16.

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