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by Allegra Fuller Snyder

dancing man

It is often said that dance is ephemeral and therefore eludes documentation. The reality is that dance is multidimensional, perhaps the most complex of all expressive forms. Dance is part of our personal and cultural experience and its past, present, and future deserve to be safeguarded. The purpose of documentation is to provide access to that experience over time. The tools that can fully document such a three-dimensional form have not been available until this century. Although these tools have evolved and are still evolving, there is now the opportunity to engage in significant documentation, to take on the challenge of preservation, and to focus on the ways in which the tools for documentation are used.

Dance in the American Cultural Context

There are deep-rooted reasons why dance has seemed such a fragile presence in American1 culture, and in particular, in American libraries. The lack of dance documentation is the result of two quite different sets of problems. The first, the dearth of materials themselves, results primarily from the difficulty of accurately capturing a three-dimensional experience. Text, paintings, or photographs convey at best only two dimensions at a time. Dance documentation has developed haltingly for this reason. This shortage of recorded dance gives the impression that dance itself does not have a history, which creates a particular stigma in a culture where the past gives credence to the present.

The second problem results from the negative and prejudicial attitudes toward dance that have prevailed in American culture. This bias reflects a particularly Anglo-Saxon, Protestant point of view that originated during the Reformation. The depth of hostility, documented since the fifteenth century, is shocking and real. John Northbrooke, a Protestant minister under Elizabeth I of England, held that “dauncing is the vilest vice of all” (as quoted in Wagner 1997, 19). Three hundred years later, in An Essay on Dancing, J. Townley Crane writes of “several considerations from which it is inferred that common dancing is unwise, inexpedient, and, consequently, sinful” (1849). In 1851, Bishop Moses Henkle stated that the “unintellectual” character of dancing made it peculiarly disposed to the taste and morality of barbarous people, “an animal affair” (as quoted in Wagner 1977, 366). And who can miss the message of From the Ball-room to Hell: “As the twentieth century began, it was still charged that dance contributed to divorce, prostitution, venereal disease, the development of the modern woman, and the breakdown of the family” (Faulkner 1892, 394).

In Adversaries of Dance, From Puritans to the Present (1997), Ann Wagner suggests some reasons for the centuries of antagonism. First, dancing involves the human body, the body and sex are coupled together, and both are taboo subjects. Second, the human body moving rhythmically adds another layer of sexual overtones. In addition, since dancing produces no essential goods or services, arguments arise regarding its usefulness to society. As Richard Strum states in his review (1998, 305), the book uncovers “a peculiar interplay of religious conservatism, unquestionable stereotyping of what is male and female, a deep dread of human physicality and sexuality, alongside dance as a pleasurable and increasing[ly] irresistible pastime.” These stereotypes stand in sharp contrast to views of dance in other parts of the world, as we will see.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a dance revolution began in America that brought new forms of and ideas about dance. The ideas were presented in books, among the first of which to find their way into the American library were Genthe’s The Book of the Dance (1920) and Havelock Ellis’s The Dance of Life (1923). Then books by two of the pioneers in this revolution appeared: Isadora Duncan’s My Life (1927) and Ted Shawn’s Gods Who Dance (1929). As students of these masters became masters themselves-Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and others-a field called modern dance emerged with its own very articulate spokesman, John Martin (1933, 1936). At the same time the American ballet emerged under the guidance of Lincoln Kirstein (1935). Martin and Kirstein both had a gift for words and continued to produce works on a regular basis, while other volumes on ballet and modern dance were written.2

In 1942, Dance Index started publishing a series of important monographs that covered many aspects of dance. These volumes led to the consideration of dance forms in other parts of the world, and to the recognition that European and American dance did have a history. This point of view became the theme of the next important publication: The Dance Encyclopedia (Chujoy 1949). In 1959, Dance Perspectives, edited under the inspired vision of Selma Jeanne Cohen and Al Pischl, followed somewhat the same directions of the earlier Dance Index by contributing regular volumes on all areas of dance. These publications added greatly to both the literature and the quality of scholarship. In the early 1960s, Dance Horizons Books began a series of important republications of dance books, including volumes from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In 1974, Selma Jeanne Cohen edited Dance as a Theater Art: Source Readings in Dance History from 1581 to the Present. Substantive dance scholarship came to be recognized by readers at large, and within and by the dance community itself. More than 20 years later, the International Encyclopedia of Dance was published, again with Cohen as its founding editor (1998). The field of American dance had begun to have a literature but these texts did not yet convey a sense of the actual dance experience because they were still restricted to words.

Other dimensions in the study of dance were also taking form in the postwar period. The field of dance ethnology, the study of dance in its cultural context, emerged and took a parallel, but somewhat separate course. Dance ethnology asked questions, for instance, about The Function of Dance in Human Society (Boas 1944), described The Anthropology of Dance (Royce 1977), and understood that To Dance is Human (Hanna 1979). Other branches in the study of dance began to build their separate literatures, most notably dance therapy.

Despite the growth of dance scholarship, the subject of dance was still sparse on our bookshelves, in part because it was often classified under separate and sometimes unexpected areas. The hidden documentation of dance resulted from documenting something else. Two fields that could be called Pandora’s boxes of hidden documentation are the social sciences and the arts. In the social sciences, anthropology is perhaps the main source, followed by its cousins in the hybrid social science and humanities fields such as folklore, ethnomusicology, musicology, and nonverbal communications. Among other things, anthropology deals with cultures where dance figures substantively. Great names in the field of anthropology often wrote on dance: Franz Boas, Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Clifford Geertz, and Victor Turner, to name a few. Moreover, most literature on African, Asian, and Native American cultures regularly refers to dance.

It was not until 1967, when the National Endowment for the Arts included dance as an area for support, that dance was consistently included as a subcategory of the fine or performing arts. Dictionaries and encyclopedias from the first half of this century seldom mentioned dance under headings dealing with the arts. The place of dance also merges and overlaps with other categories. For example, performance arts as they define themselves today often view dance, music, pictorial arts, and text as one. Sometimes dance is classified under theater in one instance, music in another; other dance materials may turn up with mime. Many references to dance occur within arts that have been termed primitive. Hopi Kachina dolls introduce children to their gods, who join the people during rituals to become the masked dancers. In many cultures, dancers wear masks, yet in most texts (especially art history), masks and dance are treated separately. Needless to say, music is inseparably related to dance and contains veins of information rich with dance.

As we reach the year 2000, both the earlier bias against dance and the dearth of materials documenting dance are being addressed. Global interaction is affecting America’s traditional attitudes toward dance and twentieth-century technologies are creating new documentation formats. The opportunity for a new relation to and appreciation of dance lies before us.

Beyond American Borders

The prevailing understanding of dance in the United States differs from that in the rest of the world, where dance plays a central role in culture. For example, in the Hindu trinity, Shiva is Lord of the Dance. Bharata Natyam, the classical dance of India, is founded on the theory of dance encoded in the Natya Shastra, a treatise written between the fourth and first centuries B.C. by the sage Bharata Muni and the sacred source for much of the performing arts of India (Vatsyayan 1968, 161). In Japan, the origin of Kagura dances (the basis for all forms of Japanese dance) is described in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest historical document.3 These ancient written documents illustrate a sense of the timeless centrality of dance in but two of many world cultures. At its roots, dance is a community experience and the focus on dance may be diffused in these cultures because it is often part of larger events, rituals, festivals, or celebrations. Most dance is not performed for an audience, but for “attainment rather than entertainment” (Laski 1958, 2). “Ordinary people danced as a matter of course, and seldom had the occasion to record the fact or notice its effect” (McNeill 1995, 37). It is a challenge to place dance in the word-oriented documents of culture because dance is both a way of knowing and a body of knowledge, and the knowledge rests in a complex of sensory experiences.

Before the Renaissance, dance played a large role in Western European societies. As elsewhere, it was predominantly a participant experience that was characterized by a unity of time and space. During the Renaissance, European societies evolved from having a holistic orientation to time and space, typical of nonsecular cultures shaped by the rhythms of ritual, to creating specialized functions and separating time and space experiences. In this process, the arts were separated from other aspects of culture, and then became specialized. Music became associated with time, while painting, architecture, and sculpture became linked with space. Dance became less compatible with this more specialized perspective because it was an art at once temporal and spatial that could not be dimensionally reduced.

As a result, dance developed a dependency on theater, the other time/space form, at a moment when theater was attempting to flatten itself into a two-dimensional experience. After the Renaissance, the two-dimensional theater frame (the proscenium arch) created a separation in a previously omnidirectional occurrence. Space became static; the spatial relationship between the audience and performer became fixed. Dance became something to be viewed, rather than directly experienced.

The biases and prejudices against dance in the United States that were mentioned earlier are, to a large extent, nonexistent elsewhere. The dominant notion of dance being a female activity is not reflected in other cultures. In some, the male dancer is the dominant figure who holds the stature that Michael Jordan and other male sports figures hold in contemporary American society. The ritual or celebratory event of dance may play a central role analogous to the role that a major sporting event plays in America today. In non-American societies, men and women usually dance separately and the dance event is often about their identity as male or female. If they come together in couple dances (a relatively recent step within the evolution of dance), it is with a powerful sense of self-presentment. The couple is a unit of the community. It is not about close physical encounters, and rarely has sexual overtones.

American thinking entangles the arts in incongruities about role, place, and significance. On one hand, artistic work is usually highly respected as the achievement of a gifted few; at the same time, the arts are often denigrated and considered a nonessential component of culture. This leads to what has been referred to as “the Arts with a capital ‘A,'” which emphasizes a specialized taste for art. It separates the artists’ work from daily concerns and tasks and places them within the domain of the elite. In many other cultures, creativity is expressed in such daily tasks as basket making, bread making, and pottery making; it is understood to be an essential responsibility of all within the community.

Americans are experiencing an awakening of cross-cultural awareness through television, radio, travel, and daily encounters with people from around the world. This new awareness is profoundly influencing American perceptions. Encounters with new dance forms and contexts are particularly important to this process. These experiences will eventually add a new sense of the significance of and possibilities for dance in American culture.

Stepping Stones in Dance Documentation

Visual and written documentation provides fragmented glimpses of the presence and significance of dance throughout the history of humankind. One of the first drawings made, dated to between 18,000 and 12,000 years ago in the late Paleolithic period, portrays a human figure dancing on the walls of the Trois Frères cave in France. Dancers are seen in a Neolithic rock painting in the ravine of Oued Mertoutek, in the Sahara desert. A relief in the tomb of Ankhmahor, Egypt, depicts a dance in honor of the Goddess Hathor in about 2400 B.C. Other pieces of incomplete yet telling documentation are found on artifacts: a fragment of an Elamite pottery from Iran, dated about 3000 B.C., depicting hand-holding figures engaged in a circle dance; a painting on the neck of a proto-Attic water jar depicting two opposing line dances of men and women, led by a lyre player, from about 700 B.C.; Greek cups, frescos, and bas-reliefs of figures created during the Golden Age of Athens. The great temples in India (Khajuraho), Indochina (Angkor Wat), and Indonesia (Boroboudour) abound in bas-reliefs of gods as dancers. Other depictions of dance include Chinese Tang dynasty terra cotta statuettes; Persian ceramic bowls, miniatures, and carved ivory chests; Japanese screens; medieval church folios and miniatures; paintings of Sioux and other Plains Indians on buffalo hides from the 1780s; and the dancers depicted in the paintings of Breughel, Watteau, Tiepolo, Longhi, and Goya.

Written testimony can be found in the writings of Sappho, Homer, Aristophanes, Euripides, Plato, Li Po, Rumi, and Flaubert who, through the centuries, speak with great eloquence of the dancers and the dance. “What we know of dance in earlier centuries rests on pictures and word descriptions” (Guest 1984, 42).

The first books devoted solely to dance and its study appeared in Italy in the fifteenth century. “During the Renaissance, dance and correct deportment became important as the many principalities vied with each other for supremacy in the noble arts. The need for magnificent display derived from the political ambition of the princes. Such display was a means of propaganda, finding its outlet in the splendor of pageants and ‘balli'” (Guest 1984, 43). Dance masters were in high demand. They found it necessary to record their work. Domenico da Piacenza’s De arte saltandi et choreas ducendi (1450) is the oldest known treatise on dance technique (Guest 1984, 43). At first, letters standing for a simple vocabulary of movements served to document the dance. Eventually letters became signs “having some pictorial relevance in suggesting the movements they represent?. It is only through books containing careful explanations of how each step should be performed that we can come close to the dance of that time” (Guest 1984, 45). In 1588, Thionot Arbeau’s Orchesographie “provided a delightful as well as detailed and authentic record of sixteenth-century dances, dance music, and social mores” (Guest 1984, 48). By the Baroque period, intricate floor plans were added to illustrate the dances.

The evolution from simple verbal descriptions to more multidimensional “bird’s eye views” made the literature more plausible. These books and others that combined symbols, signs, pictures, and word descriptions were the first to present dance multidimensionally. Hence, they were the first specific demonstration of our ability to document and preserve the dance; they were the first advances toward overcoming the time/space dichotomy.

Still photography came into being in the mid-nineteenth century. Soon the photograph was considered capable of capturing “reality,” but it was still a two-dimensional medium, another stepping stone on the way to more accurate documentation. During the 1870s and 1880s, Eadweard Muybridge made tens of thousands of photographs of men, women, children, and animals in motion. Each series of negatives was shot with a row of cameras, carefully positioned and timed to capture the various stages of each movement. His work brought us to the edge of a three-dimensional experience.

From Stepping Stones to Milestones

Those interested in notating dance investigated many forms after the pioneering work of the dance masters, but none could fully meet the challenge. In Austria in 1928, Rudolf von Laban published Schrifttanz, the first formal disclosure of Labanotation, a notation system that seemed to be the answer. In 1949, the Dance Notation Bureau was founded in the United States. In 1976, the U.S. copyright laws were changed (partly because of the development of Labanotation) to officially acknowledge choreography as a separate entity that could be copyrighted. Until the change in the law, choreography had been included under drama, and had been described by a verbal synopsis of the piece. The importance of changing the law went far beyond the copyright process. It marked the first time that dance was acknowledged as a separate phenomenon that could be described in its own terms, with its own symbol system. For many, this recognition moved dance out of the realm of illiteracy and into a form with a written equivalency.

While the development and acceptance of notation changed legal and academic attitudes toward dance, it was the moving image that more widely affected the general population’s experience of documented dance. The dancing figure was one of the more fascinating subjects for early Lumiere and Edison films. Even though the camera was very heavy and cumbersome, early filmmakers went into the field and recorded dancers in contexts rarely seen beyond the communities of the dance.4 The advent of film opened the door a crack to the direct, three-dimensional experience of dance in a form that could be preserved and reviewed.

Hollywood motion pictures were also tools of documentation and preservation, sometimes unwittingly. The Great Train Robbery (1903) contains sequences that recorded both a square dance and a Virginia reel-further examples of “hidden” documentation. Hollywood studios filmed Ted Shawn, Anna Pavlova, and Irene and Vernon in the silent era. Furthermore, musicals such as the films of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and others helped change the public’s appetite for, and acceptance of, dance. They made dance “seem safe and desirable for all Americans” (Strum 1998, 307).

The 1940s saw the first significant use of 16mm film, pioneered to a large extent by Maya Deren, who was both a dancer and a filmmaker. She demonstrated the creative potential of these smaller cameras, which were lighter and easier to use. Editing was relatively easy, and projection required only a screen and portable projector, rather than a theater or formal screening room. In the 1960s, the availability and widespread use of film coincided with the appearance of dance curricula in universities. The 16mm format contributed to the development of classroom and educational films. Film brought the history of dance to life in the classroom and film documentation began to form a critical body of literature as important as the written text.

nutcracker suiteFig. 1. Labanotation for excerpt from variation of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. The Nutcracker Site. Courtesy of the Dance Notation Bureau, Inc.

It was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that video began to be used to document dance. Video had important advantages over film: longer recording time, instant playback, and synchronous sound. It was also easier and less expensive to use. Since video made it easier to capture movement in time and through space, the ephemeral aspect of dance was fast becoming less of an issue. When videocassettes became widely available in the late 1980s, many universities and public libraries set up video viewing areas. Videotapes could be studied by moving forward and backward, selecting sections, and freezing frames, things that could not be easily done with earlier film formats. The advent of home video viewing equipment and its widespread use made viewing the moving image almost as simple as taking a book from the shelf. Videotapes began to compete with books and other forms of the printed word.

Fig. 2. Reading Labanotation

Reading Labanotation

Reconstruction of Dance

At this point, the foundations were laid to document, preserve, and access dance as a fully realized time/space experience. In the end, it is a creative combination of various forms of documentation that create the most exciting results. One such example was the recreation of Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) by the Robert Joffrey Ballet Company in 1989. In this project, preservation through documentation fed back into reconstruction and performance. The Rite of Spring, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky, music by Igor Stravinsky, and decor and costumes by Nicholas Roerich, premiered in 1913. The shocking newness of this work caused an uproar; it was too far ahead of its time. There were seven performances in all, and when Diaghilev wanted to revive it seven years later, no one could remember the choreography. Richard Buckle, in his book Nijinsky, says Le Sacre was not only “a masterpiece, the climax of Nijinsky’s career, but also a seminal work, a turning point in the history of the dance” (1971, 311). Nearly 60 years after its opening, Millicent Hodson, dancer and dance scholar, worked with art historian Kenneth Archer to put the pieces together again. This story is an exemplary demonstration of what is possible when documentation and preservation are pursued to the fullest.

Archer’s goal was to find and reconstruct the Roerich decor and costume designs and Hodson’s task was to recreate the Nijinsky choreography. They searched five countries on three continents. Ultimately, 80 percent of the costumes were found and a good number of the accessories; finding the décor was more difficult. Hodson’s challenge to reconstruct the choreography was even greater. She examined and reexamined visual sources, particularly the drawings by Valentine Gross. She pored over writings about the performance by Stravinsky, the critics, the dancers, and, most importantly, by Marie Rambert (founder of Ballet Rambert), who had been Nijinsky’s assistant and was still alive when Hodson started this project. The most in-depth record of the work was a rehearsal score on which Rambert had written, shortly after the premiere, copious, detailed notes about each measure of choreography. This document could not be found. Nevertheless, Hodson continued, building voluminous notebooks, musical phrase by musical phrase.

Rambert’s lost score emerged in 1984. It was this final discovery that enabled Hodson to complete the reconstruction for the Joffrey Ballet. Décor and costume designs, the costumes and accessories (including shoes), photographs, drawings, newsreel film, written texts, oral histories, and rehearsal scores were all used in the process. The Nijinsky work was reborn in 1989 and filmed by Danmarks Radio and WNET/Thirteen later that year for Dance in America, a PBS television series. History was recast.5

Joffrey Ballet

Fig. 3. Members of the Joffrey Ballet perform the Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinsky’s legendary “lost” ballet of 1913, Le Sacre du Printemps. Photo by Lawrence/Migdoll.

Electronic Media

The growth of electronic media in the 1990s brought new potential for the documentation and preservation of dance, and for access to dance materials. Electronic media embrace the capabilities inherent in the computer itself, and such forms as CD-ROM, DVD, and other emerging tools of telecommunications. The Ohio State University has developed LabanWriter, software that automates Labanotation for the Macintosh, and MacBenesh, a computer software program for writing Benesh notation is also now available. Another area of growing interest relates computer notation to animation: LifeForms is character-movement software used to create choreographic and movement sequences on the computer screen for pre-visualization or presentation in the classroom or on the World Wide Web. Other developing applications and interfacing of programs (such as LabanWriter with LifeForms) will further advance dance documentation methods.

Just as early filmmakers used dance as a subject, the dance field is beginning to take advantage of developments in multimedia technology. While the current work in dance technology emphasizes the creation of virtual dance art, uses for documentation also are being investigated. For instance, the Department of Dance Multimedia Learning Center at the Arizona State University is a facility designed to promote and encourage the use of media and computer technology in dance education. A. William Smith and Vera Maletic of The Ohio State University Dance Department (which is very active in dance technology) created the innovative Dance Comprehensive Documentation Shell (danceCODES), a user-friendly multimedia program that dance companies or individual choreographers can use to document and preserve the diverse components of their work.

The digital revolution and the World Wide Web have enabled the merging of time/space documentation: the integration of three-dimensional moving images with two-dimensional text and graphics. For example, An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals, circa 14901920 is a Web-based digital collection of more than 200 social dance manuals. The Web site notes that these materials have been contextualized by “a significant number of anti-dance manuals, histories, treatises on etiquette, and items from other conceptual categories” (Library of Congress 1999). Drawn from materials held in various divisions of the Library of Congress, this virtual collection is the only existing version of this special subject collection. Most of the contents may be viewed in their entirety with full text searching capability. Most significantly, portions of the movement and music come alive through digital video and audio components. With these advances, the foundation is now laid to document, preserve, and access dance as a fully realized time/space experience.

Integration and Use: The Library’s Role

The dance community has grown more interested in and concerned about its own history and the process of documentation. These interests will not only result in more documentation, but will also create incentives to save valuable information from the past. Several organizations and projects are now working toward these ends. The National Initiative to Preserve America’s Dance (NIPAD), sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts, supports dance documentation and preservation projects designed to be integral to the creation, transmission, and performance of dance. SAVE AS: DANCE, a national partnership program funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, includes both NIPAD and the UCLA National Dance/Media Project. By sponsoring fellowships and documentation projects, the program works to develop strategies for using new media to document the diversity of dance in the United States. Preserve, Inc. was established in 1987 “to assure dance a life beyond performance.” It provides services through workshops and publications aimed at influencing the way dance is recorded and saved. In addition to these and other organizations, a number of choreographers, dancers, and companies such as Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Martha Graham, and Eric Hawkins are establishing programs to ensure that their works are documented and preserved in the best ways possible.

Many of the materials that document dance are housed and cared for in libraries and archival repositories. The Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC), an alliance of major repositories and institutions that have dance collections, was founded in 1992 to strengthen the national documentation and preservation network. The coalition’s mission is to make accessible, enhance, augment, and preserve the materials that document the artistic accomplishments of dance of the past, present, and future. It recently collaborated with the George Balanchine Foundation to distribute the Balanchine Archives, a set of videotapes documenting the Balanchine technique and aesthetic, to appropriate libraries and archives worldwide.

A strategy for the presentation of dance materials in a way that spawns new and creative uses is vital to the development of documentation itself. The Library of Congress’s American Ballroom Web site is an example of such presentation of dance for access and use. Libraries should provide comfortable facilities for ready access to all forms of media, ensuring equal access to all forms of documentation. The Dance Collection of The New York Public Library contains more than 30,600 reference books about dance, yet these account for only three percent of its vast holdings. There must be continuing bridge-building between the reading of dance in whatever form it takes, the doing of dance in whatever form it takes, and the use of dance in whatever form it takes. Libraries need to come alive with their awareness of dance. Dance communities need to be excited by new opportunities within the library. All need to make an ongoing effort to establish connections between dance and other facets of culture. The connections are there if one seeks them out, through exhibits, lectures, and other creative interfaces; these are then often further transformed into CDs and Internet sites.

Use is more than taking a book or video off the shelf. It demands a creative combining of textual materials (often retrieved from hidden resources) with drawings, photographs, music, filmed or taped material, and CD-ROM and Internet resources in ways that make both the experience and the understanding of that experience multidimensional. The example of The Rite of Spring, while considerably more ambitious than the tasks suggested here, is nevertheless a useful model. The daily library user should not be afraid, but should be encouraged, to engage in such a creative process. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington suggests that libraries be thought of as knowledge centers rather than information centers (1997, 4), and that librarians “be freed from traditional rote tasks to serve [instead] as ‘knowledge navigators,’ guiding users to the information they are seeking” (1995, 6).

Additionally, library facilities should, as much as possible, supplement the research process with exhibits and demonstrations. By mounting an exhibition on hip-hop, or breakdancing, as it was originally called, the library could use dance to tell the story of a dance form that came out of the ghettos to replace gang warfare with gang dance competition. It has a history parallel to, and interwoven with, rap, and has branched into another form, called stepping, performed by African American fraternities. It has been carried onto the Broadway stage in Savion Glover’s Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. It also bears both a physical and psychological relation to such forms as the mgodo, danced in the Chopi villages in southern Mozambique, or capoeira, created by African slaves in Brazil about 400 years ago as a martial art and appreciated today as an aesthetic experience. While aesthetically interesting, such a display would also deepen one’s understanding of the sophisticated and vital role that dance plays in contemporary American life.

With CDs, and increasingly online, there is a new relationship being established between the library, the subject matter, the artist, and the user that will increase the library’s effectiveness in society. According to Billington, “Libraries as places will also be needed in the future to provide local human mediation between the new technologically dispensed information and the old knowledge repositories of books. There can be no real ‘interface’ between the two without a human face on the spot linking remote, electronically-dispensed information with the local printed storehouse of human memory and adding judgment appropriate for the particular community being served” (1977, 7). Through such a process, users inside and outside the field of dance can be made aware of the transformations occurring in the field of dance. An appetite needs to be whetted that can be satisfied through full involvement with current and future demonstrations of dance documentation.

Libraries can be the catalysts in creating a new awareness of dance as a rewarding resource. Libraries can expose new audiences to a full understanding of dance through environments as inspiring as stage performance venues.

Simon Schama, in delivering his New York Council for the Humanities Scholar of the Year address of 1998 entitled “Visualizing History,” stated, “We need to go beyond the book-to the humming bazaar of contemporary culture: to the modern museum; to the rapidly accumulating infinite world of the cyberarchive, of interactive electronic history; to the movies; to the imminent world of digital television; and we need to do so not holding our noses or looking down them, but steadily right into the lens of the camera” (The New York Times, October 10, 1998). Libraries, users, dance scholars, and artists all need to follow this same path to build an enriched future and history for dance.


Fig. 4. Illustration from The Art of Dancing by Kellom Tomlinson. Published in London by the author, 1735. Reproduced from the Library of Congress’s Web site, An American Ballroom Companion: Dance Instruction Manuals.


1 Throughout this essay, the term American suggests a mainstream worldview that seems to hold some dominance but is probably more white Anglo-Saxon Protestant in origin and less representative of Native American, African American, Latin American, and Asian American heritage.

2 Other important works included Barbara Morgan’s Martha Graham: Sixteen Dances in Photographs (1941), Cyril Beaumont’s The Complete Book of Ballet (1941), and George Amberg’s Ballet in America: The Emergence of An American Art (1949).

3 The Kojiki also tells the story of the goddess Ame-no-Uzume, who danced in front of the cave where the sun goddess Amaterasu was hiding and lured her out to brighten the world (Gunji 1970, 82).

4 Examples include four Pueblo Indian dances, shot on location in 1898, now in the Library of Congress, labeled Buck Dance, Circle Dance, Eagle Dance, and Wand Dance; and Baldwin Spencer’s footage of an aborigine kangaroo dance and rain ceremony, shot April 4, 1901. Edward Custis filmed the Navajo Yeibechai ceremony, with its central dance component, in 1906, and the Hopi snake dance in 1912.

5 Preservation copies of the film are housed in the Library of Congress and the NYPL Dance Collection. At present, acquisition of the video series is difficult because of unresolved issues relating to distribution arrangements.

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