Dance in CanadaContemporary PerspectivesDanse au CanadaPerspectives contemporaines[Record]

  • Marcia Ostashewsky,
  • Sherry Johnson and
  • Kristin Harris Walsh

…more information

Dance ethnographies bring dance studies together with folklore and thus provide significant subject matter for this special issue of Ethnologies. Historical and genre-based approaches to dance have long been the norm in dance studies; however, by the 1960s, research conducted by self-identified “dance anthropologists” began to explore wider social processes and cultural contexts of dance performances and productions. Earlier studies, such as Joann Kealiinohomoku’s article “An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance” (1969), and later works like Judith Lynne Hanna’s Dance, Sex and Gender (1988), used anthropological perspectives to study dance forms previously not considered in this way. These American scholars paved the way for an acceptance of ethnography, among dance researchers, as an appropriate methodology for thinking about and writing about dance. Moreover, the inclusion of the ideas of scholars such as Kealiinohomoku (in Dorson’s 1972 Folklore and Folklife: An Introduction) and Adrienne Kaeppler (in Richard Bauman’s 1992 Folklore, Cultural Performances and Popular Entertainments) in folklore anthologies illustrates the beginnings of dance/folklore links through ethnographic approaches. These anthropologically inspired dance writings encouraged scholars to reflect on the importance of dance communities, their performers and audience members, and the social and cultural contexts in which dancing occurs. Both dance studies and folklore studies have influenced the work of all the authors whose articles appear in this issue. Not only did these early dance ethnographies emphasize the significance of context and function of dance forms with regard to understandings of the significance of dance as a part of culture, they also helped to break down the distinctions between so-called “high art” and “low art”; folk, national, and ethnic dance became “vernacular dance.” This in turn resulted in a shift in perceptions of vernacular dance. Susan Eike Spalding and Jane Harris Woodside, for instance, define it in the introduction to their collection of articles, Communities in Motion: Dance, Community and Tradition in America’s Southeast and Beyond: vernacular dance is “dance that is community based and is shaped and perpetuated by the traditional process; it can either be social or performance oriented in character” (1995: 2). Earlier considered as something raw, unskilled and aesthetically unrefined, vernacular dance is now understood in relation to specific groups of people, accessible, localized, and popular. The articles published in this issue were submitted in response to a call for articles exploring concepts of tradition, reinvention, revival, heritage and identity as enacted in and by diverse dancers and dance communities. We encouraged analyses that addressed dance of any contemporary or historical genre and/or performance context, drawn on expansive notions of ethnological inquiry through dance as narrative symbolic practice, as narrative construction, as cultural agency in performance, and practiced through regional, national, and transnational contexts. In essence, we wanted to elicit new scholarship on the shifting nature of “the traditional” in dance as understood in social and cultural contexts through ethnographic practices. The following articles are written by scholars living and working in different parts of our country; together, they address a variety of dance genres. The interdisciplinary work of the authors published in this issue, scholars who have studied in and come from fields such as folklore and ethnology, anthropology, ethnomusicology and cultural studies, have encouraged a wide and rich outlook on dance in Canada. The method of the diverse research gathered here, ethnography, is something that all the articles share. The authors’ use of ethnography is not limited by perspectives grounded in one or the other discipline, but has encouraged them to find compelling ways of giving voice to the importance of dance in the lives of individuals and communities …