Early Dance Working Group meeting summary — June 2012

The Early Dance Working Group of SDHS met on Saturday, June 16, 2012, during the SDHS conference in Philadelphia. Present were Dominique Bourassa, Lynn Brooks, Kathryn Dickason, Meira Goldberg, Karen Millyard, Peggy Murray, Ken Pierce, Virginia Preston, Tilden Russell, Olivia Sabee, Linda Tomko, Cathy Velenchik.

We used the following questions to prompt discussion:

  • What would we like to see more of, at SDHS conferences and more generally within SDHS?
  • Whom do we want to see/hear at conferences?
  • How might we attain these goals?

Other questions arose along the way:

  • How can we promote consciousness about early dance in university dance programs?
  • How can we involve more graduate students in early dance scholarship?

Below is a summary of thoughts and suggestions that from the meeting.

Early dance visibility within SDHS

At SDHS conferences, we would like more lecture-demonstrations and participatory workshops related to early dance, to allow conference attendees unfamiliar with early dance get a taste of it, and to provide opportunities for exchange of ideas among early dance specialists. Each evening of the conference could include social dance activities that would include early dance. Although teaching a reconstructed dance at a conference or giving a presentation based on a dance reconstruction might not constitute “new” research, it would be a new experience for the majority of conference attendees, and it could be framed in such a way as to present a new approach or experience.

Another important way to bring early dance within view of conference participants would be to offer panels and presentations on some of the pioneering researchers of the “early” early dance days, summarizing their work, considering its influence, placing it in context, and so on. This suggestion takes on particular urgency as one by one these pioneering researchers pass away.

We would also like to see panels that would interest early dance researchers but would also be of more general use, such as a panel on using newly developed electronic catalogues and databases for research. It is important to relate what we're doing with early dance to what other participants are doing with more recent history — to seek out common interests and approaches.

Another panel/workshop suggestion was “Sample the style: If you had to teach a course in X, how would you teach it? Get your feet wet with the dance style”. The session could include an actual class in the technique as well as pedagogical and theoretical points, bibliographies, and resources.

We discussed the relatively strong early dance presence in the programming at the Toronto conference, which was due largely to the efforts of local organizers. For future conferences we should make sure that we're in touch with the conference committee and with local arrangements coordinators, to offer suggestions and to provide feedback.

We should also pay attention to ways in which calls for papers and other conference notices are publicized via list servs, other lists, theater and musicology organization lists, and so on, to insure that a substantial number of early dance proposals are submitted. Our working group should take on the responsibility of gathering appropriate list information. This would need to be done anew for each conference, rather than relying on previous (possibly old) lists/information.

Early dance visibility within dance studies

In addition, and probably related, to the problem of dwindling early dance presence in SDHS is the more general problem of limited early dance study in university degree programs. The general feeling, based on personal observation rather than on any scientific study, was that fewer dance history students are focusing on early dance. One likely explanation is that shrinking budgets affect doctoral programs, encouraging quicker research projects than early dance sometimes requires.

How can we promote consciousness about early dance in university dance programs? We should connect with the SDHS Dance History Teachers Working Group to consider possibilities. Other suggestions include the “Sample the style” panel described above, and social dance opportunities at conferences that would offer graduate students a taste of early dance. The Early Dance Working Group and SDHS could undertake to make a variety of early dance bibliographies publicly accessible.

By analogy with online journals that post selected articles for free, we might arrange to webcast a couple of papers or presentations for free, to entice people who might be interested in early dance, or more generally in SDHS.

Funding questions

Early dance researchers do not always come from academia. Although some independent scholars probably do not need special financial consideration, others do. We recognize the need for SDHS to provide funding for graduate students attending conferences; we feel there is also a need for funding that would allow independent scholars to attend. We ask that SDHS consider offering stipends for independent scholars, as well as for graduate students. It is important that local arrangements committees seek to offer low-budget housing at conferences, and that SDHS keep conference registration fees as low as possible.

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