ASA09: Anthropological and archaeological imaginations: past, present and future
Bristol, UK

The material culture of dance
Location Victoria Rooms Recital Rm
Date and Time 8th April, 2009 at 09:00


Jonathan Skinner (University of Roehampton)
Andree Grau (University of Roehampton) none
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Short Abstract

This panel will look at the material culture of dance. We are interested in papers which look at dance artifacts from pre-antiquity to the present.

Long Abstract

This panel will look at the material culture of dance. We are interested in papers which look at dance artifacts from pre-antiquity to the present. Dance - typically an instantaneous act and art of the present - has been recorded in various ways: on rock walls, on pots, in sculpture, in sand, on canvas, on paper, as text, in slides, in film, and now - in digital. We are interested in the symbolism of dance, in what it means to be portrayed as well as how it is portrayed and 'captured' - if it is possible to represent what Langer refers to as this 'virtual power'. How has the material culture of dance changed and has it been for the better? We invite papers focusing upon individual dance artifacts as well as papers which look at the transformation in the representation of dance. Whether it is pair of dance shoes, a painting of dancers, an instructional DVD, or an ancient carving, we are interested in the diverse material culture of dance

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Pop video clips of Mbalakh: learning to dance in Dakar, Senegal

Author: Eleni Bizas (Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies)


This paper explores the relationship between dance in music videos featured on TV and dance as performed in the public sphere of Dakar, Senegal. Every few months, music video clips of the pop genre Mbalkh introduce new choreographies to the Senegalese public. Depending on their popularity these choreographies are appropriated by lay as well as professional dancers and later performed in clubs, street events and other social domains. They are the ignition and at the same time the grounds for further improvisation. In this context, the recorded performance of dance becomes at the same time an artefact, in the sense of a record of the past as well as the fuel for creativity for the future. It thus stands in a dialectic relationship with the dancing witnessed in the streets and night clubs.

Once located in the street, learning Sabar dance has now moved indoors, in front of the Television set. This new means of learning dance however is not unproblematic. In fact, the quality of these dances is contested and valued differently, depending on the position of the dancer within the field of different dance genres. While for some this is evidence of modernity that challenges the old ways, for others it is the freedom to experiment with dancing by trespassing the 'traditional' social order. Rather than analysing dance in symbolic terms, I shall explore the dynamic and processual relationship between 'static', recorded dance and its more improvisational form when performed in the social sphere of Dakar as well as the local, multi-vocal understandings involved.

A pair of dancing trousers: multiple meanings attached to a piece of garment in a Rio de Janeiro funk ball

Author: Mylene Mizrahi (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)


This paper is intended to reflect on a piece of garment that has been widely known, in Brazil, as "calça da Gang", or as "Brazilian jeans" in global contexts, including UK. Those trousers have the appearance of a very tight pair of jeans, although its fabric is not the usual denim employed on the factoring of the jeans trousers. Its fabric is actually a "knitted jeans", a woven jersey made of cotton and Lycra, but as it is a jersey it stretches in horizontal and vertical ways, differently from the jeans made with Lycra, which can only stretch in a single direction, the vertical one. The materiality of the garment relates in many different and significant manners to its context of use. The funk balls are dancing parties happening on every weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is mainly attended by popular classes youngsters. The atmosphere of seduction and the eroticism predominate at the party and the trousers acts as an agent of seduction, a vehicle for marking gender borders, is used, by its baroques adornments, as a way of overcoming a "taste of necessity", gives comfort to the body and freedom to the dancing movements and also epitomizes the feminine funk attire. The analysis is rooted in 18 months fieldwork carried on a Rio de Janeiro's funk ball and by accompanying the youngsters in their homes, work and shopping activities. Its theoretical apparatus joins both materiality and agency approaches with the system of objects analysis.

Berimbau, body and play of Brazilian Capoeira´s performance

Author: Joao Passos (Universidade Estadual de Campinas)


This paper intends to demonstrate some notions of plurality in expressive forms in the sphere of Brazilian Capoeira´s performance. Within this, we have focused, in particular, on the art of Mestre Gato Preto (Master José Gabriel Góes) to analyze the relationship between musical and corporal performances. From experimental fieldwork to contemporary concepts of Performance Studies such as play, flow and restored behavior we have analyzed the ritual performance of Roda de Capoeira (the event consisting of music, dance and audience).

Capoeira is an art forma that mixes dance, martial arts and music. The musical element is vital in all styles of capoeira. A range of instruments are utilized however the berimbau is the primary instrument, without which the ´Roda` is impossible. It is in fact the music which determains the nature of the performance in terms of temple, intensity and freedom to improvise.

We analyzed many ritmic patterns of berimbau playing (toques) and identified a strong correlation between sound patterns and physical movements. For this reason, we used some references of Tiago Oliveira Pinto, Kazadi Wa Mukuna and Kay Schaffer, whose previous research touched on this area of musicology, performance and capoeira, as well as Victor Turner and Richard Schechner who conducted the ground breaking research of Performance Studies. Finally, we wish to demonstrate these ideas using authentic instruments and performance.

Constraint, the concha and the Concheros' dance

Author: Susanna Rostas (Cambridge University)


The intangible qualities of dance cannot be "saved, recorded, [or] documented," once they have been, they become "something other than performance": for the effects of dance do not last. But ritual dance in particular is always contextualized in various ways; enacted in specific places and at particular times, often in front of people but more particularly shaped by specific material artefacts that are in part what make it what it is. The effect of these various constituting factors is to turn a set of patterned body movements into something closer to performance. In this paper I will be looking at the Concheros who perform a circle dance in Mexico City which its enactors claim is unchanging. It will discuss several of the dancer's material artefacts that either shape its enactment musically (such as the concha an instrument especial to the Concheros) or materially (such as the clothing worn increasingly based on the depictions in the codices of the Aztec's dances). However, the more such depictions are seen as indicators of how the dance should be portrayed today, the more constrained in certain respects the dance becomes: some dancers even refusing to tolerate its multilayered historicity.

Circular dance performances in the prehistoric Aegean

Author: Kathryn Soar (University of Nottingham)


'The Cretans are dancers' was a universal acknowledgement in the works of ancient literature. References to Cretan dancing and its importance have a long history. One of the dances referred to by Sappho was the circle dance, said to be practised by Cretan girls dancing barefoot around altars.

Archaeological evidence, in the form of architecture and iconographical representation, also attests to the importance of the circular dance, not just in Crete but also on the Greek mainland. The duration of this tradition extends from the early Bronze Age, c2900 BC on Crete up until the Geometric Period on the Greek mainland (c.900-700BC).

An analysis of these dance rituals, both in a contextual setting and also from an ethno-archaeological perspective, suggests an ideological and cognitive theme which unites all manifestations of circular dance in the Prehistoric Aegean. This paper will discuss themes of date, formation and setting of circular dances, in order to argue that circular dance rituals occur at times of socio-political fluidity and change, that their formation highlights integration and cohesion between community members in such times of growing social turmoil, and their setting is a deliberate territorial indication of these communities. Circular dance ritual and performance is thus an ideological tool, used to create a sense of unity and community identity in the face of growing social disparities.