Dance History: An Introduction

By Janet Adshead-Lansdale; June Layson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 15

Writing dance history

June Layson


This chapter is concerned with the act of writing dance history. To write is just one aspect of creating and communicating since dance history commentary or outcomes may well take other forms such as oral or video presentations or actual performances. 1 However, since this book is itself a written text on the study of dance history it is the processes culminating in writing, together with the presentation of the various written forms, which are discussed here. Even so, much of what is stated is highly relevant to other modes of communicating about dance history. Outcomes may differ but most of the procedures for dealing with dance history are common.

Writings on dance history may cover a wide range. Typically, at school and college level these may be students’ descriptions or accounts of selected dance history topics based on secondary sources and more designed to demonstrate the writers’ understanding and grasp of major historical events and themes rather than to make a valid contribution to dance history knowledge itself. Nevertheless, such accounts need not be in the form of partially digested information culled from a few sources and presented in an uncritical fashion. Even if there is no opportunity to use primary source material (and at a local level this may be partially compensated for since photocopies of original documents, such as theatre programmes, can be made available) student writers should be encouraged to exercise their powers of discrimination and to discuss and evaluate their material. First encounters with the task of writing dance history can be imbued with the notion, proposed and elaborated upon in the opening chapter of this book, that the subject is essentially open to interpretation and re-interpretation and is far removed from being merely a catalogue of dates and blocks of inert knowledge to be learned and accepted without the active participation of the learner.

At college and first degree level, written work in dance history may take the form of summaries or overviews of dance types, genres and styles within particular periods. These may or may not be based on primary sources, although working with some first-hand material is always desirable, but it is unlikely that the results will constitute original research. Nevertheless, the hallmark of such writing should be a growing ability to adopt a critical stance and the mode of presentation should ideally raise questions, point to ambiguities, and, generally, convey the authors’ understanding of and active involvement with the topic.


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