Printer-friendly format  Article citation        


Editorial Comments


This issue marks a historical transition for JASHM from a print journal to an electronic online journal. We can assure our readers that most things about JASHM will stay the same, but there are at least two compelling reasons for this change in our method of publication and distribution. First are the greater visibility and accessibility for interested scholars worldwide that will undoubtedly come with online access. Second, the multimedia possibilities of an online format provide us with the ability to publish photographs and video and sound clips in addition to written texts. The visual components of our subject matter make these new, albeit complementary, technologies especially enriching. For those subscribers who prefer to read JASHM on paper or who do not have reliable or easy access to the Internet, print copies will still be available upon request from the University of Illinois Press.

            We have also shifted from our independent in-house publishing and printing organization to publishing under the auspices of the Journals Division of the University of Illinois Press. The editors would like to thank Clydette Wantland and the university press Journals Division staff for their enthusiasm and assistance with the transition process and the creation of the new Web site. We look forward to a long and productive working relationship. We also take this opportunity to thank our anonymous outside reviewers for their assistance in maintaining our high standards for publishing original research and writing in JASHM.


Movement and Dance in Colonial Contexts

This issue of JASHM is the first of two devoted to movement practices in social and cultural contexts shaped by colonialism. A call-for-papers was circulated via email in the fall of 2006. We would like to thank all those who responded. While certainly not the only source of significant changes in dance and movement practices, colonialism is clearly a topic of current interest to historians of the dance and performance-studies scholars as well as anthropologists of human movement. As always, we welcome these interdisciplinary contributions.

            The papers include research on colonial encounters and the effects of colonialism, neocolonialism and postcolonialism on a variety of movement practices. The differences between these concepts can usefully be defined as follows:

Colonial--domination by an imperial power that appropriates land and economic resources and that destroys or severely disrupts social organization and political autonomy. 'Settler colonialism' refers to contexts where the dominant population is made up of the descendents of colonizers (e.g., Argentina, Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, the United States).

Neocolonial--symbolic domination via processes such as the cultural appropriation of imagery, symbolism, religious practices, and arts, often including subjugation through capitalism and globalization.

Postcolonial--political autonomy may have been recovered (as in India and many African nations), but societies cope with ongoing social, political, and psychological effects of colonialism. Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world may have some limited autonomy, but they remain in colonizing contexts due to settler colonialism. Many former colonies also remain subject to neocolonial processes.

            Widely divergent experiences in many countries make the term postcolonial a very loose one. Some scholars, for example, argue that it is frequently misunderstood as referring solely to a temporal concept, meaning the time after colonialism has ceased or the time following a politically determined independence day. They wish to define it more broadly as follows:

Not a naïve teleological sequence which supersedes colonialism, postcolonialism is, rather, an engagement with and contestation of colonialism's discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies… . A theory of postcolonialism must, then, respond to more than the merely chronological construction of post-independence, and to more than just the discursive experience of imperialism. (Gilbert and Tompkins 1996: 2)

            Many, if not most, contributions to contemporary postcolonial studies focus on the modern European colonial project, and indeed many authors limit the term colonialism to describe the process of European settlement and political control over major areas of the globe, including the Americas, Australia, and parts of Africa and Asia. It is useful to remind ourselves, however, that colonialism is not a modern phenomenon. The ancient Greeks set up colonies, as did the Romans, the Moors, and the Ottomans, to name just a few. Margaret Kohn accurately points out, however, that in the sixteenth century, colonialism changed decisively because of technological developments in navigation and sailing ships. She writes, "The modern European colonial project emerged when it became possible to move large numbers of people across the ocean and to maintain political sovereignty in spite of geographical dispersion" (2008: 1).

            Thus, although there is considerable debate over the precise parameters of the field of postcolonial studies and the definition of the term postcolonial, in a very general sense, it currently refers to the study of the interactions between European nations and the societies they colonized in the modern period. According to Deepika Bahri, "The European empire is said to have held sway over more than 85% of the rest of the globe by the time of the First World War, having consolidated its control over several centuries. The sheer extent and duration of the European empire and its disintegration after the Second World War have led to widespread interest in postcolonial literature and criticism in our own times" (1996). As anthropologists, we would want to expand this somewhat Eurocentric focus, however, noting that other colonizing and imperialist regimes have existed in Japan, Turkey, and Russia, and currently exist in China.

            Kohn (2008: 1) notes that colonialism is frequently treated as a synonym of imperialism but finds that the etymology of the two terms provides some suggestion about how they differ. According to her, the term colony comes from the Latin word colonus, meaning farmer. This reminds us that "the practice of colonialism usually involved the transfer of population to a new territory, where the new arrivals lived as permanent settlers while maintaining political allegiance to their country of origin" (1). In this sense, colonialism is frequently used to describe the settlement of places such as North America, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, and Brazil that were controlled by a large population of permanent European residents. Kohn continues, "Imperialism, on the other hand, comes from the Latin term imperium, meaning to command. [This] … draws attention to the way that one country exercises power over another, whether through settlement, sovereignty, or indirect mechanisms of control" (1). Kohn asserts that the term imperialism "often describes cases in which a foreign government administers a territory without significant settlement; typical examples include the scramble for Africa in the late nineteenth century and the American domination of the Philippines and Puerto Rico" (1).

            Postcolonial theory also involves efforts to move beyond simplified binary oppositions that have often structured the way others are viewed. Colonialist discourses, for example, produced a contrast between the 'Oriental' and 'Westerner,' often distinguished as different from each other on the basis of stereotypes such as the 'emotional, decadent Orient' versus the 'principled, progressive Occident.' In the case of European colonization, this opposition frequently justified a self-perceived 'destiny to rule' subordinate peoples (sometimes now referred to as the 'white man's burden' and the 'civilizing mission'). Postcolonial studies have introduced new terms such as hybridity (cultural, political, and linguistic mixing) and transculturalization, which, while not without problems of their own, seek to "evade the replication of the binary categories of the past and develop new anti-monolithic models of cultural exchange and growth" (Ashcroft 1995: 183). These are of particular relevance during contemporary processes of globalization.


The Papers

In this issue, we present research papers on three contrasting colonial sites and contexts: the first, by Rachel Fensham, addresses an eighteenth-century colonial encounter in Australia; the second, by Brenda Farnell, documents ongoing neocolonial modes of representation that racialize indigenous peoples of the United States; and the third, by Sarah Carlson, explores postcolonial artistic developments that challenge concepts of 'traditional' dances and dancing and their place in contemporary Benin, a former French colony in West Africa.

            Rachel Fensham's paper, "On 'Dancing with Strangers': Rechoreographing Indigenous and British Sovereignty in the Colonial Encounter," gives us a rich and rigorous ethnohistorical examination of a defining colonial moment in Australian history--the first documented colonial encounter between Australian Aboriginal peoples and British sailors in 1778. Taking to task a recent popular reading of this encounter, Fensham illustrates beautifully the necessity not only of taking into account the body movements and concepts of space/territory in such an encounter but also how these must be interpreted with an informed historical understanding of the meanings of body movements and space/place on both sides of the exchange. Despite the scant availability of conventional historical evidence (one or two sailors' accounts and a single painting), Fensham's paper reaps the rewards of careful analysis by drawing upon a range of historical sources that shed light on the dancing itself and so results in more accurate interpretations of what may have been going on in these encounters.

            Fensham's paper was first presented at the annual conference of the Society for Dance History Scholars in Banff, Canada, June 2006, where she was on the same panel as Brenda Farnell, whose paper "Choreographing Colonialism in the American West" provides the second contribution to this issue. Farnell documents how, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States federal government attempted to control and suppress American Indian dances and ceremonies in reservation communities. Ironically, at the same time, colonialist constructions of 'Indian dancing' began to proliferate in Wild West shows and expositions and as sports mascots on American university campuses. The paper examines both processes--legal prohibition and mimetic practices--as racializing discourses that historically position the 'dancing Indian body' as simultaneously an object of desire and disgust. She argues that these racializing practices persist because the 'Indian' remains a symbol central to the construction of 'whiteness' in the United States. Farnell's paper analyses the semiotics of the performance of Chief Illiniwek, the contested sports mascot at the University of Illinois. In so doing, she develops an earlier paper that focused on the spoken discourses of mascot supporters (Farnell 2004).

            The third paper, by Sarah Carlson, entitled, "Dancing the Sacred Fantastic: Vodou Rites and Artistic Syncretism," presents the results of the author's recent field research in the Republic of Benin, West Africa (formerly the French West African colony of Dahomey). Carlson draws our attention to tensions between traditional dance forms and innovations that stem from the introduction of Western modern dance forms and associated training techniques. The problem facing aspiring Beninese choreographers, she tells us, is how to develop a concert dance aesthetic that is distinctly African or Beninese. Carlson illustrates how traditional forms of Vodou dancing and ritual practices provide deep and influential roots that inform current changes. She asks a number of interesting and important questions: "What happens to Vodou rhythms and movements when removed from their ritual context? How do practicing Vodusi artists view their aesthetic explorations in light of their ritual practice? What steps are being taken to redefine expectations of so-called 'traditional' African dance at home and abroad?"

            These questions resonate with changing dance practices in many other parts of the world, especially as dance arts find themselves subject to neocolonial appropriations to promote tourism, to postcolonial efforts to develop nationalism or to foster cultural revitalization (see Williams 2000). That traditional Beninese dance arts managed to survive the disruptions afforded by the slave trade, French colonial rule, and, after 1958, almost twenty-five years of postcolonial ethnic strife and political turmoil is in itself testimony to the cultural depth and importance that adheres to these traditional dances.

            Each of the three case studies presented here refers to European forms of colonization. As noted above, however, Western nations were not the only colonizing powers and imperial regimes, and we look forward to learning more about the effects on dancing and movement practices of other centers of empire such as Japan's colonization of Taiwan, Turkish Ottoman imperialism in Arab nations, and Chinese government interventions in the movement practices of China's ethnic minorities (see Fairbank 1985, 1986), to name just a few. We also anticipate that other forms of political control such as those exerted by Islamic regimes, monarchies, dictatorships, and Communist rule, as well as by democracies, also affect movement practices in a variety of ways. Although certainly these are not the only sources of change in dances and other movement practices, we cannot be said to know very much about the links between politics and body movement. We hope these two special issues of JASHM will stimulate further research in this area.


The Editors


References Cited:

Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (eds.)

1995. The Post-Colonial Reader. London: Routledge.

Bahri, Deepika

1996. Introduction to Post Colonial Studies. Accessed April 20, 2009.

Fairbank, Holly

1985. Chinese Minority Dances: Processes and Preservationists, Part 1. Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement 3(4): 16889.

1986. Chinese Minority Dances: Processes and Preservationists, Part 2. Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement 4(1): 119.

Farnell, Brenda

2004. The Fancy Dance of Racializing Discourse. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 28(1): 3055.

Gilbert, Helen and Joanne Tompkins

1996. Post-Colonial Drama: Theory, Practice, Politics. London: Routledge.

Kohn, Margaret

2008. Colonialism. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 ed.). Accessed April 20, 2009.

Williams, Drid

2000. The Cultural Appropriation of Dances and Ceremonies. Visual Anthropology 13(2): 34562.









Content in Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement (ISSN 1940-7610) is intended for personal, noncommercial use only. You may not reproduce, publish, distribute, transmit, participate in the transfer or sale of, modify, create derivative works from, display, or in any way exploit the Journal for the Anthropological Study of Human Movement database in whole or in part without the written permission of the copyright holder.
© 2009 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
Terms and Conditions of Use.