On Friday, November 3, 2017, four panelists led a discussion about the connections between dance, movement and ethnography. The panelists—Ann Cooper Albright and Meiver De la Cruz from Oberlin College and Ohio State’s Katherine Borland and Danielle Schoon—gathered to explore these concepts with the audience, as well as to convey their personal experiences with dance, movement and ethnography.
Anne Cooper Albright
Anne Cooper Albright, chair of the dance program at Oberlin College and Conservatory, discussed her experiences with dance and dance history. Albright is invested in ethnographic study as a dance and heightening levels of dance literacy in societies around the globe. Albright approaches dance as moving with people, underscoring it as reciprocal. She outlined that movement is kinesthetic, a felt experience—feeling versus seeing. The bodily sensation, she added, is a critical intervention in working comparatively and ethnographically. In addition, Albright discussed folk dances as welcoming to everyone. Through dance, Albright said, one can subvert the institutional, corporate structures that hold control over the body and its actions. Finally, Albright highlighted that the body is a responsive being; it accommodates a movement of personality that crosses over differences and engages diverse groups of people.
Meiver De la Cruz
Meiver De la Cruz, also a professor of dance from Oberlin College and Conservatory, is invested in ethnographic dance, American dance, dance pedagogy and the neoliberal circulation of Arab American identity. De la Cruz investigates these concepts through an intersectional lens—emphasizing study on racism, globalization and sexual violence. Her work engages with the movement practices of Arab American dance, especially the performance of movement and the performance of formal dance pedagogy. De la Cruz searches for the essence of dance—the creation of movement and its reverberations through the flow of shifting cultures, as well as the moments in dance that remain true through historical shifts. De la Cruz has utilized her research in dance to organize within and between communities and empower marginalized populations.
Katherine Borland is a professor of comparative studies and studies American dance forms as well as American dance forms and their embodied practice as sites of diversity. Borland expanded on the idea that working with something so ephemeral as dance can be a challenge. Borland has researched in Nicaragua during a time of political transition where she studied Nicaraguan folklore, festival performances and the Marimba dance as representations of people.
Borland posited the questions:
- Who is doing the dance?
- In what context is it being done?
- What are they using the dance to say?
These questions inform her scholarship and underscore the importance of performance of identity as well as the importance of the existence of spaces where people move across lines of difference instead of treating dance as a representation of one identity.
Borland has also studied New Jersey Salsa, which, historically, has had less field work done to excavate its representations of people and ideas. Borland, while conducting her research, estimated its levels of inclusivity and exclusivity and the rhetorics of such actions. She found that New Jersey Salsa was quite diverse; every person from every walk of life was participating. Borland was also interested in understanding the partner dance, which conscribes dynamics of gender onto its participants. These differing understandings of differing experiences are what came to be the embodied experiences of the participants.
Danielle Scoon, professor of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, researches cultural anthropology. Scoon discussed gypsy performance and identity in Turkey. Scoon discovered her passion for studying dance while writing her dissertation about Turkish cultures. She began researching Belly Dancing, which lead her to the Turkish gypsy dance known as Roma. The Roma dance, which Scoon began researching intensively, is a traditional Turkish folk dance. Scoon was interested in examining the roles of student versus teacher, and learning how the students were learning, as opposed to what they were learning.