Dancing with Clio: History, Cultural Studies, Foucault, Phenomenology, and the Emergence of Dance Studiesas a Disciplinary Practice

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This chapter is particularly concerned with the status of history, dance history especially, within Dance Studies. It asks what has befallen the more recent status of history, once an epistemological support at a critical stage in Dance Studies’s early development, now that Dance Studies is better established within the academy. Is history so much scaffolding which, having fulfilled its purpose in enabling the disciplinary plant to take root, is to be dismantled and, if not actually discarded, at least demoted? The recent excision of history from key Dance Studies nomenclature might indicate this, as does the somewhat beleaguered status of dance history within British HE which Carter describes.

If Dance Studies betrays an anti-historical bias, what underlying disciplinary rationale[s] might have prompted this? Two factors will be identified and proposed as having particular bearing, here. The first is the strong imprint of Cultural Studies on Dance Studies and its possible impact on dance history’s standing within dance scholarship. The second has to do with implications, for dance history, of a particular critique based in anthropology that, in effect, questions the very suitability of historical methods for scholarly consideration of dance.

To take Cultural Studies first, one dividend of Dance Studies’ early, pivotal indebtedness to Cultural Studies is a willingness to question and reject conservative historical practices; to problematise history as disciplinarily moribund. Cultural Studies imparted to Dance Studies - at least in its Anglo-American configuration - healthy scepticism about history as master discourse; ‘histories’ shaped as ‘touchstones of the national culture, transmitted to a select number of people…[and] in the keeping of a particular literary [or other] elite.’ (Stuart Hall, 1990: 13).

Cultural studies therefore offered Dance Studies an escape from the limitations of history practised more conventionally. But this chapter intervenes to ask whether Dance Studies has been too hasty and harsh in its condemnation of history. As Gay Morris points out, key Cultural Studies thinkers advocated historical method (Morris: 85-86). So might the fault lie with Dance Studies’ misconstrual of Cultural Studies; in its misreading - as overly hostile - of Cultural Studies’ relationship with history? This chapter draws in part on Stuart Hall’s own writing to argue this is the case.

While Anglo-American generated Dance Studies might endure as a dominant model for dance scholarship, this paper suggests it too can now be historicized. In this respect might Fredric Jameson’s recent provocation incentivise dance studies to re-visit; rethink; and re-calibrate its disciplinary relations with Cultural Studies and history respectively?: ‘I have the feeling - and I don’t think I’m the only one - that what’s succeeded literary studies, namely cultural studies, is itself greatly weakened today. It’s a convenient way of lumping a lot of things together, but I’m not sure there really is such a thing as “cultural studies” anymore; it’s no longer a movement or a vanguard.’ (Jameson: 150).

Attention then turns to the anthropological critique of history’s very suitability for enquiry into dance; specifically to Sally Ann Ness’s dismissal of Foucault as insufficiently interested in motility and overly invested in the historical, to be fully suitable as a theorist for dance. Ness’s reading of Foucault as ‘anti-phenomenological’ is questioned through recourse to the ‘late’ Foucault whose writings, this chapter suggests, are under-utilised for dance research. This chapter ends by suggesting that the ‘historical’ Foucault and – by extension – historicisation, might be turned to once again, and with renewed energy and interest, as possessing much, methodologically speaking, still to offer to a considered analysis of dance and its potential.

Bryson, N. (1997) Cultural Studies and Dance History. In: Desmond, J. C. ed. Meaning in Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance. Durham, North Carolina and London, Duke University Press, pp. 55-76.

Carter, A. (2007), Dance History matters in British higher education. Research in Dance Education, 8 (2) December, pp. 123-137.

Hall, S. (1990) The Emergence of Cultural Studies and the Crisis of the Humanities. October, 53 summer, pp. 11-23.

Hall, S. with Schwarz B. (2017) Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands. London, Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Giersdorf, J. R. and Wong, Y. (2016) Remobilizing Dance Studies. Dance Research Journal, 48(3) December 2016, pp. 70-84.

Jameson, F. (2016) Revisiting Postmodernism: An Interview with Fredric Jameson. Conducted by Baumbach, N., Young, D.R, and Yue, G. Social Text 127 (34:2) June, pp. 143-160.

Koritz, A. (1996) Re/Moving Boundaries: From Dance History to Cultural Studies. In: Morris, G. ed. Moving Words: Re-writing Dance, London and New York, Routledge, pp. 78-91.

Morris, G. (2009) Dance Studies/Cultural Studies. Dance Research Journal, 41 (1) summer, pp. 82-100.

Ness, S. A. (2011) Foucault’s Turn from Phenomenology: Implications for Dance Studies, Dance Research Journal, vol. 43 (2) winter 2011, pp. 19-32.

O’Shea, J. (2010) Roots/Routes of Dance Studies. In: Carter, A. and O’Shea, J. eds. The Routledge Dance Studies Reader. 2nd ed. London and New York, Routledge, pp. 1-14.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDance Fields
Subtitle of host publicationStaking a Claim For Dance Studies In The Twenty-First Century
EditorsAnn R. David, Michael Huxley, Sarah Whatley
Place of PublicationBinstead, Hampshire
PublisherDance Books
ISBN (Print)9781852731816
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020


  • dance and history

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