Dance History: An Introduction

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

Chapter 3

The dance history literature

A reader’s guide

Janet Adshead-Lansdale

Texts selected for discussion here are examples of dance writing in which the approaches outlined in Chapter 1 are particularly well defined. Similarly, the types of sources and the procedures of the historian described in Chapter 2 can be seen in practical use and the outcomes reviewed. The appropriateness of these different lines of investigation for the topic being pursued becomes clear. Certain limitations consequent upon the choice of topic and the manner of dealing with it also become obvious.

To attempt comprehensive coverage of dance history texts would be an enormous undertaking and one which is unrealistic in this context. The selection of a limited number of sources is necessary, therefore, if inevitably problematic. Only book-length texts are considered here and journal articles are not included although much of the literature of greatest value to historians may be contained in such sources. Indeed, the most recent writings of dance historians are likely to be found there. The books selected for comment are well known works which are generally available through bookshops and libraries. Appendix A (p. 252) is designed to complement Chapter 3 in summarizing and offering a brief evaluation of the contents of selected texts. Appendices B and C (pp. 274, 284) give longer and more comprehensive lists of books, journals, bibliographic sources, dictionaries, encyclopedias etc. with shorter annotations which are descriptive rather than evaluative in kind.

Most of the selected texts are explicitly historical in character but some are not. In the latter category sources which might be of great use to the historian, but which are not written specifically as histories, are included: for example the collected writings of choreographers, performers and dance critics. Some categories of historical writing are thinly represented in the overall selection, for example straightforward biographies and autobiographies, although these sources exist and are of value to the historian. The biographies included here are examples of those which place emphasis on the work of the person rather than on their private lives. Anthologies, which draw together the writings of important individuals in dance, e.g. by Brown (1980) and Cohen (1974), not only provide invaluable primary sources but also reveal the editor’s perspective on what is and is not important in the history of dance. However, most anthologies are omitted from this chapter since they are not constructed primarily as historical accounts although they are listed in Appendix B.

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