A professor of mine from senior year encouraged me to read Dancing Across The Page: Narrative and Embodied Ways of Knowing By Karen Barbour. Several months later, I finally got around to borrowing a copy from the library. I have three more chapters to go, and there are so many things I love about this book already…
First off, Karen Barbour is a New Zealander of Pākehā descent. I immediately felt connected to her work as I read familiar Māori words in the preface, recollected Aotearoa’s colonial history, as I heard the Kiwi accent and slang out loud in my head, and as I pictured the unique New Zealand landscape and weather. I could envision myself at Auckland Uni in the Dance Studies Programme again, if only for a few moments…
Barbour weaves in and out of theoretical concepts, excerpts of poetry, personal reflections, memoirs of her accounts with students, and my personal favorite-thick description.
It’s only been about a year since my interest in dance academia really took off. I’m still developing the capacity to engage with dance academia. My goal with my reading list is to condition my dance theory muscles for when it’s time to use them in the future. While I was in NZ, I knew that dance studies through a cultural/anthropological lens was the next thing I would become very passionate about. I’ve always been eager to experience dance through written words and concepts-a bit like ihi, wehi, and wana in Kapa Haka:
The portrayal and attainment of ihi is considered to be the achievement of excellence in performance. Ihi is a psychic power that eliicits a positive psychic and emotional response from the audience. The response is referred to as wehi, a reaction to the power of performance. Wana is the condition created by the combination of the elicitation of ihi and the reaction of wehi during performance. (Matthews 2004: 10)
For me, reading and writing about dance feels a lot like wana. The clarity and excitement I experience when I read dance theory and stumble upon phrases and concepts to describe certain issues is akin to the thrill I felt in my early training, and when I first started choreographing.
Barbour’s main concept throughout each chapter is embodied ways of knowing and establishing the body as a domain of knowledge in academia through choreographic practice, which is a lot of what I learned from my undergrad department chair. An excerpt from chapter one says,
My contention as a feminist is that the specifics of my embodiment are pivotal to epistemology too, just as the specifics of my cultural, social, discursive, and geographical context are also integral to what I can know.
There are certain concepts that I want to hang on to and more authors I’m curious about…
- The tyranny of slenderness from feminist studies and its influence in dance as elaborated by Carol Brown, the decisions I can make as a female choreographer, and the social/historical baggage behind the demands for women and female dancers in particular to be thin (ever notice how often exercise programs are marketed as _____ “for weight loss?”)
- Somatophobia in academia privileging the mind and knowledge over body and experience and the epistemological argument for dance as a domain of knowledge
- The Intercultural Body as defined by Halifu Osumare
- I probably need to read some more Judith Butler to better keep up with the amount of times she’s referenced
Artistically speaking, Barbour’s book has given me a lot to consider regarding my own choreography. Written from the compassionate and empathetic perspective of a dance professor/mentor, I feel as though her chapter on pedagogical approaches to affirming identity has offered positive insight, challenges, and reminders that will help me reevaluate my current disposition in my choreographic practice. I had a pretty full schedule this summer and I was too distracted to be as fully present as I ought to have been in my own projects.
Having the time and energy to read for pleasure is definitely a highlight of post-grad life!