In this chapter the remnants and accounts of the past are characterized, categorized and discussed. The early focus on sources in this text is significant and serves two functions. First, it underlines the importance of these materials in dance history. Second, it alerts the reader to the different kinds of source bases used in the dance history texts discussed in Chapter 3, and in the specialist area chapters which constitute Part II of this book.
To be able to work efficiently and effectively with sources is a required tool of the dance historian’s trade. Even though the use of computers has revolutionized documentation of historical sources the basic necessity remains to start from the extant evidence of dance. It may well be that as more advanced computer programs are developed so dance historians will need to re-tool and to re-appraise well-established practices, but the starting point for study is essentially with source materials, the bedrock of dance history.
In history generally a fundamental distinction is made between types of source materials, and it applies equally to dance sources. This is the separation of ‘primary’ from ‘secondary’ sources, which is crucial since it determines the nature and value of study in an area as well as any written outcomes.
Primary sources are those that came into existence during the period being studied: thus they are first-hand and contemporary, and provide the raw materials for dance study. Examples of primary source materials in dance are a dance performance, a choreographer’s working score or log with all its amendments and annotations, actual costumes worn by dancers for known performances and eye-witness accounts of certain dance events. Secondary sources, as the term suggests, are second-hand, processed, after the event accounts, often using hindsight to trace developments in the dance over a span of time. All the standard dance histories, dance encyclopedias and dance reference books come into the secondary source category. Some of these texts are based on primary sources though the more ‘popular’ histories often use materials previously published in other dance history books.