Article

Dance Ethnography

Helena Wulff

in Anthropology

ISBN: 9780199766567
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0079
Dance Ethnography

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An understanding of dance ethnography is twofold. First, it refers to the systematic face-to-face research of dance events and dance worlds, such as dance in its social and cultural context. Such research has traditionally been conducted during long-term qualitative fieldwork in one single place, but it now increasingly occurs in multisited, even transnational and global places, as this is how much of social life tends to be enacted. Second, dance ethnography refers to the textual presentation of data derived from face-to-face research. Structured by analytical questions, ethnographic descriptions report on indigenous perspectives while ideally taking theoretical debate further in an ensuing theoretical discussion. As ethnography as method and textual style originates in anthropology, cases of dance ethnography appear in the first anthropological studies from the late 19th century, included in elaborate descriptions of rituals. Importantly, dance is an indicator of social and cultural circumstances, often identifying points of conflict and driving transitions. Dance ethnography has revealed political and religious control of dance, in colonial and postcolonial settings as well as in many other contemporary situations of social inequality that can be said to lead to resistance or social critique, as in the revitalization of ethnic dance or the making of alternative expression through dance. Dance ethnographers include all dance forms in their scope, Western and non-Western, ranging from ritual and folk dance through street and social dance to dancesport and staged dance performance. With the expansion of the multidisciplinary critical dance studies in the 1980s, dance scholars who were trained not only in anthropology but also in sociology, history, ethnology, folklore, cultural studies, or performance studies began applying an ethnographic approach. A key aspect of dance ethnography is the ethnographer taking part in the dancing, which generates special knowledge (which, like any bodily practice, is accessible only through participation). Dance ethnographers are often former modern or classical dancers, and some keep dancing, even choreographing. Theoretically, dance ethnographers relate to topics such as ethnicity and nationalism; postcolonialism; race politics; gender and sexuality; body, mind, and movement; globalization; and combinations thereof. Dance is also created, preserved, and distributed through media technologies. This mediation includes, for instance, digital dance, as well as dance on stage and textual notation. As dance steps are formed to a great deal by space and surface, dance ethnographers are taking an increasing interest in social science work on everyday movement (such as walking) in urban landscapes.

Article.  7767 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology ; Human Evolution ; Medical Anthropology ; Physical Anthropology ; Social and Cultural Anthropology

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