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Cultures

A Dance History Reader

Foreword Review — Sept / Oct 2001

How does a dancer explore the terrain of dance history? How can the layperson understand the vastness of the dance history landscape? How does dance scholarship include both physical and intellectual inquiry? These questions serve as points of departure in this collection of thought-provoking essays, edited by dance scholars Dils and Cooper Albright.

The editors seek to highlight “the interconnectedness of history in all its social, cultural, aesthetic, and intellectual dimensions,” addressing issues of ethnography, anthropology, aesthetics, criticism, and gender studies in dance. This landmark book, arranged in four sections, includes essays from prominent critics, scholars, journalists, artists, and academics who have reshaped dance history studies throughout the world.

The pieces in Part I, “Thinking about Dance History: Theories and Practices,” demonstrate a range of approaches to dance history scholarship, with such notable writings as Millicent Hodson’s personal account of reconstructing Nijinsky’s modern masterpiece Le Sacre Du Printemps, and Ramsey Burt’s exploration of masculine identities in dance from the nineteenth century to the present.

The second section examines the traditions of dances from around the world, offering new, culturally sensitive perspectives on how readers can observe and respond to these forms. The political, spiritual, and social implications of such traditions as Bharatha Natyam, African Dance, Capoeira, and Korean Dance are explored. Part III illustrates American dance heritage beyond theatrical concert dance, including essays on The Hopi Ritual Drama, American Minstrelsy, and the contributions of George Balanchine. Ellen Graff’s “The Dance Is a Weapon,” which explores the revolutionary dance practices of the 1930s, and Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s “Stripping the Emperor: The Africanist Presence in American Concert Dance” are texts not typically found in dance history narratives.

The final portion focuses on contemporary dance from a global perspective. “We believe that contemporary dance can both recognize and move across cultural, geographic, and aesthetic boundaries, causing categories such as self/other, nature/culture, body/mind, and personal/political to become more fluid.” This section offers anthropological perspectives on topics such as contact improvisation, African American Dance, and the integration of dance and technology.

Each section of Moving History/Dancing Cultures provides a selection of additional readings for further research. This book will serve as a valuable, inspirational resource to dancers, educators, and anyone interested in the ever-expanding field of dance history scholarship.

Dorothy Eisenstein