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Paper and Presentation Abstracts

in order of presentation


Thursday, 24 July 2010

Best, David: The Social Mind [Keynote Address]

It is obvious that society consists of individual people; it is much less obvious that individual people are significantly a construct of society. It is natural to assume that to locate the essence of the human being, one needs to focus sharply and deeply. Thus, the philosopher Descartes argued convincingly that, while the existence of everything in the world outside me, even my physical body, can be doubted, I cannot doubt the existence of my mind because it is that mind which does the doubting—hence, his famous maxim: "cogito ergo sum" (I think; therefore, I am). That is, Descartes' powerful and influential conclusion is that it must be the thinking mind which is the essence of the human being.

     This conception of the autonomous mind as distinct from the physical body strongly pervades Western attitudes. It is also prevalent in other cultures, most significantly, for instance, in religious doctrines of the nonphysical soul which is believed to survive the death of the body: hence, belief in reincarnation.

     Yet, despite its intuitive appeal, this conception of a nonphysical mind or soul, as an autonomous self, distinct from the body and society, is seminally misconceived. It arises from deeply embedded, unrecognized presuppositions. Significant consequences flow from a recognition that the thinking distinctive of human beings is, by contrast, given ultimately by actions in a cultural context.

Fairbank, Holly C.: Multiple Meanings, Layers of Intent: Efforts to Preserve Minority Dances in China during the 1980s

The ways in which the PRC utilized the human body to disseminate its political message fascinated me as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College (USA) and initially attracted me to the subject of the dance in China in the 1970s. Throughout the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government endeavored to develop a cultural connection through dance with the more than fifty-five minority groups outside the Han population. This effort took place on an unprecedented scale involving experts in the minority cultures as well as dance choreographers, dancers, researchers, musicians, dance-notation experts, and dance educators.

Nakamura, Minako, Yukito Kado, and Kohji Shibano: Developing a Digital Archive of the Works of Ms. Tastue Sata, a Leading Japanese Creator of Modern Ballet

We are developing a digital archive of the works of one of the pioneers of Japanese modern ballet, Ms. Tatsue Sata, who is still a leading choreographer in Japan. Ms. Sata's creation of a new performance starts with writing choreographic notes, including annotated texts and visual symbols in handwritten forms. She then choreographs a dance through a series of rehearsal processes. Our archive comprises handwritten choreographic notes and memos, rehearsal videos, and a video of theatrical performances together with printed materials, including critiques. Using these data, we are developing a hypermedia digital archive of Ms. Sata's works.

     In the past, documenting the complete works of an artist usually meant creating a collection of published books or papers. It was not possible to include records of live performances. However, today, by using state-of-the-art hypermedia technologies, it is possible to weave text (including handwritten notes), images, audio, and video to form a comprehensive collection. We expect that a user of our digital archive will be able to understand Ms. Sata's works better. Since she is still actively creating new ballets, and we may also include interviews with her about her works.

     We have just started the project. In this paper, we use Ms. Sata's short performance entitled Sonnet as an example to explain our approach to developing a hypermedia dance archive.

Williams, Drid: Sylvia Glasser's 'Tranceformations'

Tranceformations (1991) is the title of a film presented on behalf of Sylvia Glasser, a South African anthropologist and choreographer who cannot attend the conference in person. An essay about the dance ("Transcultural Transformations," Visual Anthropology 8[2–4]: 287–310), its conception, origin, and production will be made available to conference participants who may not have encountered Glasser's work on the Bushmen (San) of the Kalahari desert.

            Glasser is highly qualified for such a work: she is the director of "Moving Into Dance," the first nonracial dance company and school in Johannesburg in 1978, and she did a three-year course in social anthropology from 1987 to 1990, during which time she met Professor David Lewis-Williams, a former social anthropologist who was head of the Rock Art Research unit in the Archaeology Department at Witwatersrand. Excerpts from his work on San rock art (i.e., Images of Power: Understanding San Rock Art [Cape Town, SA: Southern Book Publishers, 1989]) will also be available to those who are interested.

     There are strong connections between San rock art and their trance dance, which is a religious healing ceremony. There are equally strong connections between Tranceformations and the Bushmen trance dance that inspired it. Glasser's work has won both worldwide acclaim and great respect from members of all ethnicities, including the San (Bushmen), in multicultural South Africa.

Hockings, Paul: Visual Anthropology­–Body Movement on Film

(1) Qian Shou Guan Yin [ Kwan-yin with Thousands of Hands 千手觀音]. A short film about a dance group of the "Chinese Disabled Arts Group." Edited by Zhang Ji Gang. (9 mins)

(2) Seasons of Migration directed by John Bishop (2006). A documentary that explores the transformation of identity among Cambodian immigrants in Long Beach, California, and their struggles and triumphs. Choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro has created a highly stylized classical dance that is rooted in and reflective of their real-life experiences. Artists are from the Dance Ensemble of the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh. (59 mins)


Friday, 25 July 2010

Fensham, Rachel: Local, National, Global Perspectives: The 'Difficult' Interpretation of Indigenous Dances on the Global Stage [Keynote Address]

This paper will problematize the notion of a "global perspective" in relation to the "difficult" work of analyzing and writing about new forms of traditional or indigenous dances that appear in festivals, or as spectacles, on the global stage (Williams 1991). It will suggest that where concepts of national sovereignty, nationalism, and national identification are powerful, the representation of different "others" in dance has become increasingly difficult to negotiate.

     Drawing upon discussions within anthropology and cultural theory that have highlighted the complex signification of dancing and the situation of embodied difference, this paper will propose three ways in which dance scholars might take responsibility for local, national, and global interpretations of indigenous dance performance.

     To exemplify concepts such as cross-cultural or transnational dance, the paper will discuss Corroboree, a work presented by the indigenous Australian dance company Bangarra Dance Theatre, in 2001 and 2002 in China, Europe, the United States, and Australia. It will suggest that the multiple manifestations of this performance make evident its appropriation of different dance styles and genres from Western and Aboriginal culture. This complex hybrid form has relevance because of what it does and does not reveal about the dynamic relations between past and present for indigenous and white peoples in Australia. Its poetic power, however, is redemptive and relational beyond the obvious limits of its reception or critical analysis. The paper will conclude by considering parallels between this work and other work being created today in Europe that draws upon African, Indian, or Chinese traditional dance styles and movement forms.

Conference Panel: Cultural Knowledge or Corporeal Knowledge: Analyses, Interpretations, and Reproductions of Indigenous Movement Systems in Taiwan

Chair and Introduction: Chao, Chifang

Starting with a diachronic overview, this panel intends to provoke critical discussion on the relationship between cultural and corporeal knowledge by focusing on analyses, interpretations, and reproductions of indigenous dances in Taiwan. Four presenters—a Labanotator and LMA analyst; a university dance educator; a fieldworker, instructor, and choreographer of Taiwanese folk dances; and an anthropologist—provide a broad horizon. Papers reveal the political process that objectifies indigenous people in Taiwan—its dances specifically and culture generally—after the political dominance of the majority Han regime. The study of indigenous dances and movement systems in Taiwan has occurred within contested political and academic ideologies: a changing cultural nationalism and globalized indigenous universalism, scientism in movement analysis, and a corporeal relativism from practitioners and theorists. Through debate arising from the analyses of meanings in movement and culture, this panel wishes to provoke reflexive dialogue among dance scholars from different analytic traditions and search for more productive approaches in which the analyses of movement and culture can be further benefited by mutual understanding, instead of exclusion.

Wang, Yunyu: The Application of LMA in Analyzing Indigenous Dances in Taiwan

Among the indigenous peoples in Taiwan, the existence of a matrilineal system is one of the characteristics often used to highlight the difference in social organization from that of the highly patrilineal Han people. Many cross-cultural jokes or stereotypes have been produced regarding gender relationships in a matrilineal indigenous society such as the Amis. Gender relationships are certainly an issue in objectifying the lives of indigenous people as different from that of the Han people, even from laymen's points of view. It is worth questioning, however, to what extend we can say that gender relationships differ from culture to culture. Does a gender ideology reflect itself in the dances of a society? If it does, how is it realized or interpreted? This presentation will apply Laban Movement Analysis (LMA) as an analytic tool to demonstrate differences between movements by males and females, focusing on people in selected Amis villages. By examining the steps, postures, and reaction among groups, the author will use the four elements of LMA—that is, the areas of Body, Effort, Shape, and Space Harmony—to identify relations between male and female movements of the Amis people. In the end, the author hopes to evaluate the possible contribution of LMA analysis to the comparative studies of movement and cultures.

Tsai, Li-hua: From Field to Stage: A Choreographer's Study of Taiwanese Indigenous Dances

As an experienced dance practitioner who has continuously engaged in the collecting, documenting, studying, and rearranging of folk dances in Taiwan, the author will discuss issues that arise in the process of representing indigenous people through their performing arts. Based on one published text and many stage productions of indigenous peoples' dances, as well as the incorporation of these materials into an educational program for undergraduate students in the department of Taipei Physical Education College, the author will discuss the importance and challenge of such an engagement in Taiwan today.

Chao, Chifang: Movement as the Metaphor of Culture: Resuming an Embodied Approach to Indigenous Cultures in Taiwan

Is movement an autonomous system of human actions good for scientific objectification or a source of metaphor revealing a broader cultural scheme? The Chinese historical writings on dances may reveal a specific epistemology and cultural rhetoric of human beings. In this presentation, the author hopes to pursue this line of inquiry using the example of Chinese writings on Taiwanese indigenous dancing. The author will first review the occasional undertakings of movement analyses that are scattered among various writings on the indigenous cultures in Taiwan since the seventh century and then analyze their implications for a specific approach that allows an embodied interpretation of cultures, especially those of others.

Marks, Beth: Applying Critical Theory to Interpret Conceptualizations of Health among Persons with Disabilities

Studies across populations have consistently shown that individuals other than health professionals have multidimensional views concerning "health." The World Health Organization legitimizes a broad definition of health by emphasizing positive qualities and including factors beyond absence of disease and infirmity. Many health professionals, however, define health for persons with disabilities using a one-dimensional domain—the absence of disease or impairment. Ambiguity surrounding definitions of health may relate to several factors: (1) attributes of health are undetermined, (2) health concepts vary across cultures, and (3) health conceptualizations are partially derived from concepts and ideas. Because such ideas include cultural beliefs and practices and come from families and peers, understanding health conceptualizations of persons with disabilities is imperative. Like race and gender, disability is now seen as a natural part of human experience; and persons with disabilities are disentangling socially constructed determinants from those attributable to physiology; identifying as members of a sociocultural group across diagnostic boundaries; and viewing social, political, and economic barriers as a large part of daily concerns. Critical social theory provides a framework for understanding health conceptualizations. For persons with disabilities, health concepts may differ from their peers without disabilities by virtue of variations in physical, social, cognitive, and emotional abilities. Health-conceptualization studies across persons with a variety of disabilities have shown multidimensional views concerning the concept of health that parallels those of their nondisabled peers but also incorporates their life experiences with disabilities.

Zang, Yuli (Amy): An Investigation of the Need for Sign Language in Chinese Hospitals


There are approximately twenty million deaf persons in mainland China, which is 1.5 percent of the entire population. Deafness and limited capabilities in speaking create difficulties in health consultation. Doctors and nurses, if they know Chinese sign language, can ensure smooth communication with their clients. However, there is a dearth of investigation about the basic content that health-care providers be required to learn to express themselves in Chinese sign language.


This study was designed to investigate common health concerns among deaf women in mainland China.


A team interviewed twenty-four deaf persons who met the inclusion and exclusion criteria, including a sign-language expert. Interviews were recorded using a digital video camera. Verbal expressions on the videos were transcribed, while the interpretation was examined. Thematic analysis was carried out. Themes and representative statements were explained to participants to validate interpretations.


Participants aged from fifteen to sixty-five years old (Mean=45.1, SD=12.27), of whom five were congenitally deaf and half were female. Three themes were identified: limited knowledge about own health, satisfying family support, narrow scope of social interaction, need for smooth communication, and sexual conservativeness. Participants worried little about their health and quality of life. Trusting other deaf persons and health professionals played an important role.


Sign language is a facilitating factor of utmost concern for satisfying health-related communication between deaf clients and doctors or nurses. There is a great need for basic education on Chinese sign language applicable to clinical settings.

Piao, Shu-Chi, Taiwan: We Are the Most Matched Partners: Parent-child Interactive Experiences as Mediated through Bodily Activities

One of the earliest environments one encounters is "home," in which intimate parent-child interactive experiences become the foundation for every relationship. My research investigates parent-child interactive experiences as mediated through physical interaction. My subjects are participants in the parent-child classes of the Life Pulse program of Cloud-Gate Dance School, Taipei, Taiwan, and research methods include nonparticipant observation, videotaping, and interviews. The purpose of this research is to gain more in-depth understanding of the roles and intertwined relationships among parents, teachers, and children during the class. We aim to understand better the influence and outcomes for children of this type of learning experience through physical interaction.

     According to the results of our research, positive parent-child interactive experiences help promote more efficient learning in the child and improve the quality of the parent-child relationship. Parental attitude has two major influences: on the atmosphere of the class and on the efficiency of children's learning ability. We have found that positive physical contact, exploration through games, and parent-child interactive massage encourages positive interaction between parents and their children. The class also works as a platform for families to exchange and share parenting skills and physical education with each other, which, in turn, gives each parent a new self-learning and parenting opportunity.


Saturday July 26th

Varela, Charles: The Pioneering Moment of Drid Williams [Keynote Address]

Williams's semasiological thesis of Dynamic Embodiment within sociocultural anthropology is a theoretical principle in the social sciences that can be seen to be continuous with the Dynamic Theory of Matter that centers modern-day field theory in the physical sciences. The link between the two domains of inquiry is a theory of causal powers. Causal-powers theory provides a humanistic component for modern natural science because it is the basis for the establishment of 'agency' at the center of both the physical and biological worlds. It is this event that accounts for the humanism that centers semasiological theory: the agency of powerful physical and biological particulars makes possible the emergence of the powerful cultural particulars of human persons in action.

Pegorer, Adriana: Performing Gender: Tango in the Milongas of Buenos Aires

Argentine tango, which has been called the world's most passionate dance, is performed in halls called Milongas. In this paper, I look at the tango dancers in several Milongas as a microsociety, in which broader, socially accepted gendered behavior is repeated and seldom, if ever, contested. The performance of gender roles in Buenos Aires, ritualized with miradas, cabaceos, piropos, and asados, empowers stereotypes of masculinity and femininity (the basis of tango), with its "macho" men and their mistresses. The Milonga codes and tango dancing provide a context where such stereotypes can be performed.

     The focus of my investigation was to observe gendered behavior in dancing, concentrating on the Argentinean tango because the categorization of sexuality and gender in this dance form is particularly well defined. In this presentation, I will make some observations about social recreational activities that relate to food and courtship in Buenos Aires and investigate some parallels between the rules of tango dancing and social roles in Buenos Aires.

Baker, Richard Stanley: Interrogating Sacred Space

This paper addresses the topic of sacred space: how different traditions create it, how it is experienced by an initiate or participant, whom to consult on this, how best to inquire, who or what is seen to be the creative agent, who is the experient, and the nature of such spaces; so, too, the nature of rulership of so-called seen and unseen realms and what this might mean in regard to radical change of physical and inner experiences spaces.

     It is proposed that in the traditions discussed—Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, and Yogic—the practice of prescribed actions such as chanting, singing, prayer, meditation, lustration, bell-ringing, prostration, selfless service, and making offerings has the effect of realigning to a perceptible degree the experient with the core inner state of being known as the Self, God, Buddha, and Shiva. Full self-discovery, as described in esoteric yogic texts as the 'doctrine of recognition,' is said to be that whereby the innermost core of the experient and the object of worship are found to be identical.

     This seems consistent with Zen Buddhist enlightenment and Islamic, Christian, and Hindu mystical experience. The abode of the saint is often perceptibly realigned to that state of being such that a seeker may experience directly an inner transformation, called "the descent of grace." From such positions emerge some radical redefinitions of space/time and rulership. Rulership is found by adepts to be a state of being, absolute of dimensions and experienced as blissful playfulness.

Yong, Sheenru: Creating Contemporary Ritual: The Choreographic Approaches of Anna Halprin and Lin Lee-Chen

When Richard Schechner introduced his theory of the "efficacy-entertainment dyad" in 1974, he hypothesized that efficacious theaters would dominate the theatrical world within the following twenty years. A study and comparison of two creators of ritual performance—Anna Halprin and Lin Lee-Chen—provide insights into the efficacy-entertainment continuum, as well as how ritual manifests itself in contemporary performance today. This paper examines Halprin's and Lin's intentions, methods, and results in creating a ritual performance. First, Lin has consciously chosen to revitalize Taiwanese culture through an exploration and integration of its religious and traditional rites in theatrical performance, through a varied artistic and personal evolution. In contrast, Halprin now creates rituals with the intention of creating change, often with (and for) community groups in alternative or outdoor settings. Second, an investigation of their methods of creating ritual space, experience, and performance shows noticeable similarities, that is, emphasis on the physicality of enactment and a requirement of embodied experience. Third, the result of their respective creative methods in performance demonstrates the impact of intention as well as the range of ritual creation.

     My research methods include examination of articles, interviews, and video documentation of works created by Halprin and Lin; observation of Lin's rehearsals; and participation in Halprin's workshops and her annual community ritual "Planetary Dance." While Lin's highly stylized large-scale dance dramas in many senses cannot be compared to Halprin's nature-oriented participatory community rituals, commonalities in their creative methods show a strong emphasis on bodily experience. This implies that embodiment is fundamental in creating twenty-first-century theater.

Shannon Mabra, Kwok-Sun Yuen, Winnie Wu: The Evolution of 'House'

A lecture demonstration by Shannon Mabra, a House dance pioneer from New York who has been involved in the culture since the beginning and is today one of the world's leading House dancers; Kwok-Sun Yuen is a DJ, club promoter and House dancer from Sweden who has studied music history at the University College of Dance in Stockholm and is currently working with the Gothenburg Dance and Theatre Festival; Winnie Wu is a dancer and dance teacher from Stockholm, Sweden.

     'House' is a style of street dancing accompanied by 'house music' that arose in Chicago in the early 1980s at the end of the disco era. It is improvisational in nature and emphasizes fast, complex footwork combined with fluid movements in the torso. House started in Chicago as a part of a Black underground gay culture and spread to many parts of the world during the 1990s when it became commercialized. This presentation provides a chronological history of the House movement, showing how it evolved from 1970s disco music and dancing to the present, emphasizing how the music and the dancing affect each other.

     One of the primary elements in House dancing is a distinctive Chicago technique that called "Jacking" or "the jack," that involves moving the torso forward and backward in a rippling motion, as if a wave were passing through it. All footwork in House dancing is said to initiate from the way the jack moves the dancer's center of gravity through space. House incorporates movements from many different sources including voguing, capoeira, tap, jazz, and be-bop styles, movements of African and Latin descent, and Latin dances such as salsa.

Fairbank, Holly: Through/ 穿過

[A Solo Performance with choreography by Holly Fairbank; Music by Harold Budd and Brian Eno; Images by Wang Xiaopeng].

Through/ 穿過 is a five-minute solo with minimal set and simple lighting that support the image of a dancer in empty space (k'ung). Drawing upon aesthetic principals and movement vocabulary found in both traditional and minority (minzu) dance forms, the choreographer explores some of the related aesthetics that govern the art forms of Chinese calligraphy and painting, in particular the Taoist concept of equilibrium of tensions in any given composition (t'iao li mo lo).

     This solo is the most recent of Fairbank's numerous choreographic explorations of Chinese aesthetics, in solo and duet form, created over the last thirty years, which has been an ongoing conversation exploring the choreographer's own personal encounter with Chinese aesthetics and her relationship to its history via her parents' pioneering work in the field of Chinese studies.

Robert Wood and Brenda Farnell: The Pearl Sea Project—Choreography as Live Theoretical Practice

A live presentation of excerpts from Wood's movement exploration The Pearl Sea, created over the past month with local dance artists from Hong Kong and RWDNY artists from the U.S. and France; with discussion by its creator and an anthropologist of human movement.



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