The great research collections of the United States have resulted, in part, from a long and productive collaboration among scholars, librarians, and archivists. This paper, which focuses on the documentation of, access to, and preservation of our dance heritage, exemplifies one of the most fruitful ways in which scholars and librarians work together. It is coauthored by an eminent dance ethnologist and a leader in the field of dance librarianship. In the first chapter, Allegra Fuller Snyder discusses the cultural and intellectual value of dance and articulates what elements of dance should be recorded and made accessible so that scholars, performers, creators, and the public can grasp fully the rich history of human expression embodied in dance. In the following two chapters, Catherine Johnson explores the various strategies used for making those resources accessible and the problems we face in preserving the fragile media on which these often unique and valuable sources are recorded.

This paper focuses on the management of the great variety of resources that document dance. Like music, dance exists only in performance and, like music, while there are means to notate choreography, as there is to notate a score, dance is best captured through multiple means of documentation. One hundred years from now, researchers investigating the major developments of this century will find abundant resources for scholarship in a similarly diverse mix of formats and media. It is critical that we develop new and cost-effective strategies for ensuring long-term access to the fragile media, both analog and digital, of the twentieth century. The member institutions of the Dance Heritage Coalition (DHC) are grappling with these very issues and, in so doing, are setting high standards for documenting and preserving the performing arts and other events that take place in time and space.

Founded in 1992, the DHC is an alliance of major institutions that have important dance collections. Members are the Harvard Theatre Collection at Harvard University, the Library of Congress, the Dance Collection at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Ohio State University, the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum, the American Dance Festival, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. They work collaboratively to make accessible, enhance, augment, and preserve the materials that document the accomplishments of dance. The DHC is leading efforts to address the access and preservation problems that will influence the future of cultural heritage institutions. It is for this reason that the Council on Library and Information Resources has asked the DHC to share its perspective and experience with a broader public. Conceived and edited by DHC Director Michelle Forner, this report is designed to explain the importance of our dance heritage within a broad cultural context and to propose collaborative strategies for making the critical resources more accessible now and into the future.

This report addresses the full range of issues involved in evaluating, documenting, preserving, and making accessible the history of dance. It will be of interest not only to members of the international dance community, but also to libraries and archives that house dance materials, many of which are dispersed throughout collections of sport, anthropology, and religion. It will also interest historians and funders of the performing arts, scientists, and scholars of all types, who will find in dance documentation rich new resources for investigating this uniquely expressive human activity, and, more broadly, the managers of research institutions that hold or are acquiring collections in nonprint form.

Abby Smith
Director of Programs


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