‘Become and becoming a dancer’
: an ethnography of the Taipei Dance Circle

  • Yu-Chun Chen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis examines three interrelated questions by way of an ethnography of the Taipei Dance Circle (TDC): What is ‘a dance troupe’? What is ‘artistic work’ for society? What is ‘becoming a dancer’? As a modern dance troupe, the TDC (1984- 2019) was known for dance pieces using baby oil, a practice led and then lost by its founder and choreographer Shaw-Lu Liu. I argue that when Shaw-Lu Liu died in 2014 the dance troupe passed into a liminal state to keep itself going. This situation challenges the ontological meaning of being a dance troupe. To address this question, I draw on Victor Turner’s theoretical concepts of social drama and the ritual process to suggest why a dance troupe should be treated as a process in time.

Thirteen months of involved participant observation, complemented with detailed interviews, allow me to show how the members of this dance troupe practise their distinct performing arts, and how a dancer continues ‘becoming a dancer’ in this transition period. By engaging with anthropological theories of creativity and play, this thesis argues that the TDC’s rehearsal and dance practice transcends the traditional dichotomy of work and play. Finally, by comparing the kinaesthetic attention and choreography of the late choreographer Shaw-Lu Liu with that of the new collaborator/choreographer Cheng-Chieh Yu, I illustrate the different relationships between an individual and an organization: this ‘becoming a dancer’ is understood as an ongoing process of professional socialization.
Date of Award15 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Roehampton
SupervisorJonathan Skinner (Supervisor) & James Davies (Supervisor)


  • Baby-oil dance
  • liminality
  • social drama
  • ritual process
  • ethnography
  • kinaesthetic attention
  • theory of play

Cite this