The possibilities for feminist dance histories
Dance, as an academic discipline, is in a good position to accommodate feminist problematics in the writing of dance history. Feminism theorizes culture from woman’s point of view, and it is women who constitute the majority of practitioners within western theatre dance. Both feminism, as a politics, and dance, as a cultural practice, share a concern with the body. For feminists the body is understood as the primary site of social production and inscription (Grosz 1987), whereas for dance it is its capacity for movement which is the central concern. As a feminist dance scholar I speak from the dance department at the University of Surrey, whose very existence has depended upon the committed endeavours of women, and it is women who in the main continue to develop the expanding field of dance research. Yet dance remains on the margins of feminist critical studies in the arts and feminist debates about culture have not yet been taken up in a comprehensive way within dance studies. This is despite the fact that it seems increasingly incongruous for dance and feminism to ignore each other given the possibilities which new analyses of ideology, representation and social relations bring to the study of the dancing body (Wolff in Adair 1992).
Christy Adair has laid the groundwork for the productive engagement of feminism and dance in Women and Dance: Sylphs and Sirens (1992). It is the first comprehensive British study of dance from a woman’s point of view and as such it instigates new approaches to dance history which draw on cultural and feminist theories. Adair’s discussion is wide-ranging, providing a sound introduction to many of the issues which feminist perspectives can bring to an understanding of dance. However, the kind of feminist position which Adair adopts is generally implicit within her text. There is no explicit encounter with the range of feminisms which can enrich understanding and which may be differentially adapted to suit the kinds of analyses being undertaken. For in taking up different positions within feminist debates it is possible to offer a range of readings of the meanings of the dancing body in any given time or place. Any attempt to establish a radical praxis for feminism and dance needs to account for the range and diversity of such positions whilst adapting these to the specific problematics for feminist dance scholarship.