Dance, Modernity, and Culture: Explorations in the Sociology of Dance

Dance, Modernity, and Culture: Explorations in the Sociology of Dance

Dance, Modernity, and Culture: Explorations in the Sociology of Dance

Dance, Modernity, and Culture: Explorations in the Sociology of Dance

Synopsis

In Dance, Modernity and Culture , Helen Thomas provides an original, interdiscplinary approach to the study of dance. By examining the development of modern dance in the USA during the inter-war period she develops a framework for analysing dance from a sociological perspective.In applying her approach to the work of St Denis, Ted Shawn, and Martha Graham, among others, she relates the emergence of modern dance to contemporaneous artistic developments, and locates dance within a wider social and economic context. Thus, she draws attention to the importance of popular culture in the development of modern dance, music and painting, and the crucial role women played in establishing dance as an art form. By way of exemplification, she looks at the work of Yvonne Rainer in order to demonstrate how this sociological approach might be applied to a post-modern work. Dance, Modernity and Culture explores an area of art practice that has long been marginalised by sociologists of art. As an important contribution to dance scholarship this book will be essential reading for all those interested in the performing arts.

Excerpt

My intentions in writing this book are threefold. To begin with, I wish to set out a case for generating a systematic (although not all inclusive) approach to the sociology of dance. Second, I shall argue that as dance is simultaneously a feature of the socio-cultural context of its emergence, creation and performance and a reflexive practice realised through the medium of the body, such an approach needs to be interdisciplinary in character. Third, in order to move beyond a programmatic level, this framework will be exemplified by means of a case study focusing on the emergence and development of American modern dance, particularly through the work of Martha Graham. This case study also typifies the development and establishment of modernism in the arts in America and it heralds its decline and the subsequent emergence of postmodernism.

When people ask me what my research area is and I reply, ‘the sociology of dance’, their usual response is, ‘mmm…interesting…how unusual…’, accompanied by raised eyebrows and a quizzical look which implies, ‘What is it and how do you do it?’ When I go on to explain that my research is in performance dance they are even more nonplussed. This is because, more often than not, they assume that an interest in dance would take me to some other (usually non-western) culture or that I am busily observing ‘raves’ or some other ‘exotic’ subcultures which are seen through the lenses of moral panics. The reason for this is that dancing is thought to be more visible in these contexts and therefore to have more relevance. These commonsense assumptions, although correct to a certain extent, are underpinned by certain attitudes towards dancing and those who dance, which, as I shall discuss below, are naive on the one hand and racist on the other, and in part, they have contributed to the lack of serious attention given to dance within sociology. At the same time, that unspoken question is important and requires to be addressed in some detail if the aims which I set out at the beginning of this book are to be achieved. But in order to do this it is necessary first to indicate the kinds of contexts in which dance takes place in contemporary western industrial cultures before moving on to consider sociology’s address of dance.

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