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This special

double issue marks JASHM's thirtieth year of publication. In celebration, we devote this issue to honoring the life and work of JASHM's founder and senior editor, Dr. Drid Williams. Since JASHM's inception at New York University in 1979 (see History of JASHM), Dr. Williams has been an unwavering force: dedicated to nurturing and publishing the work of students and colleagues, making historically important primary materials easily accessible, and embracing a wide range of interdisciplinary contributions. Thanks to Dr. Williams's conviction about the long-term importance of a journal specific to this subfield, current and future generations possess a thirty-year record of sound research and scholarship in the anthropology of human movement.

Figure 1.1

     In celebration of Dr. Williams's eightieth year, an international conference and performance Body, Movement and Dance in Global Perspective took place in Kowloon, Hong Kong, July 24–26th, 2008. This double issue is comprised of a selection of papers from that conference, together with illustrations and other supporting materials.

     The idea for the 2008 conference was conceived when a number of colleagues suggested it would be productive and timely to convene a state-of-the-art international conference on the anthropology of the dance and human movement. The idea began to take on a reality after a prescient suggestion by my research colleague and friend, choreographer and artistic director Robert Wood. Instead of organizing the event in familiar territory and asking Dr. Williams to travel all the way to the U.S. from China (where she was teaching at the time), he proposed, "Why don't we go to China?" The rest, as they say . . . is history.

Figure 1.2
Figure 1.2. The conference program, designed by Ada Lee, Brenda Farnell, and Robert Wood.

Organizing the events turned out to be a journey all its own, as the occasion became an ambitious joint endeavor coorganized and cosponsored by no less than four institutions. Planning was soon underway, thanks to Paul Hockings's openness to the very idea of a conference plus live performance and a joint commitment from United International College (UIC), Zhuhai, China, and the Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) to cosponsor the event.

     Wood's Movement Arts organization, Robert Wood Dance-New York Inc. (RWDNY), also made a generous commitment to a four-week choreographic residency in order to develop an on-site choreographic work, The Pearl Sea, a movement exploration that would premiere as a live performance in conjunction with the conference. The Pearl Sea would embrace Chinese dance artists and musicians in collaboration with RWDNY artists from the U.S. and France.

     Eventually, as a result of changed circumstances, UIUC, UIC, and RWDNY were joined by the Department of Sociology, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). We are most grateful to each of these institutions and organizations and to persons too many to mention here, for the incredible amount of time, money, energy, and goodwill that made possible the joint conference and performance.

Figure 1.3
Figure 1.3. The logos of the four sponsoring institutions, from left to right: Hong Kong Baptist University; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; United International College, Zhuhai; and Robert Wood Dance-New York Inc.

We especially wish to extend our heartfelt thanks for the energy, intelligence, and commitment shown by Professors Odalia Wong and Kwok-Bun (KB) Chan at the Department of Sociology at Hong Kong Baptist University, both of whom fully embraced and supported the organization of the conference and The Pearl Sea performance at very short notice when circumstances necessitated a change of venue from the UIC Zhuhai campus in mainland China to HKBU in Hong Kong.

     The circumstances that necessitated the transfer to Hong Kong are themselves of anthropological interest. In the context of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing that summer, the Chinese national government had became increasingly nervous of the possibility of outside protestors disrupting the games and increasingly suspicious of any foreign presence in China except the Olympics. Possibly as a result, the Guangdong regional authorities consistently failed to provide conference coorganizers at UIC Zhuhai with the necessary permission to hold the conference. When, in May, the Chinese government suddenly canceled the large 16th World Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in Kunming and anthropological colleagues began to report that entry visas for China were being refused, it became clear that we could not proceed as planned to host the conference on the UIC campus in mainland China. We sincerely thank Paul Hockings for his facilitation of the transfer to HKBU and his extraordinary ongoing support, as we completely shifted gears at the last moment!

The elegant, poetic Preface to the Conference Program provides a fitting entrée to the papers in this issue. It is written by Professor KB Chan, distinguished chair professor of Sociology and former director of the David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies at Hong Kong Baptist University. Professor Chan's generosity and hospitality throughout our stay was nothing short of stupendous. We are most grateful for the many extraordinary kindnesses and efforts he made on our behalf. Robert Wood and I deeply appreciated his imaginative and personal response to our scholarly and artistic goals, as well as our daily presence during four weeks of very intense activity.

     The exquisite Chinese calligraphic art that appears on the Contents page of this issue, the significance of which is discussed in Prof. Chan's preface, was the generous gift of Mr. Francis Lee. We remain honored and delighted that his distinctive artistry graced not only the conference and performance programs and posters but also the The Pearl Sea stage set.

Figure 1.19
Figure 1.19. Calligraphic art derived from the Chinese character for "dance" was created especially for the occasion and generously donated by Mr. Francis Lee.

Following the preface is a biographical statement about Dr. Williams that also appeared in the conference program. It is here illustrated with historical photographs and a slideshow of images from the conference. An illustrated transcript of Dr. Williams's thoughtful address given on the occasion of the conference banquet follows.

     The conference papers begin with keynote addresses1 contributed by two distinguished scholars well known to JASHM readers. David Best's lucid paper "The Social Mind," which explores ongoing pitfalls of Cartesian dualistic thinking about body/mind, generated interesting discussion throughout the conference that brought Western and Asian thinking into conversation.

     Charles Varela's "The Pioneering Moment of Drid Williams" masterfully situates semasiology within the history of major problems in social theory, as well as the history of science and philosophy. His in-depth examination of the twin problems of freedom versus determinism and social structure versus agency relates to the task of developing theories of embodiment and dynamic embodiment (the moving person) that are scientifically plausible for the social sciences. He makes a convincing case that shows precisely how semasiology provides us with such a theory.

Holly Fairbank's contributions to the conference were multiple. Not only did she present an insightful paper that reflected on her earlier research on minority dances in China, but she also performed an intriguing and beautifully crafted solo dance, part of an ongoing conversation with Chinese aesthetics and her relationship to its history via her parents' pioneering work in the field of Chinese Studies. Holly's fine contributions helped us fulfill our goal of combining both intellectual and performance elements within the same event.

     Holly's paper is the first of four that report on a variety of research on the dance in East Asia. Chifang Chou's paper explores the significance and multiple meanings of one particular recurring action sign of "holding hands" within indigenous Taiwanese cultures. Minako Nakamura and colleagues, Yukido Kado and Kohji Shibano, share their initial research efforts toward developing a digital archive that will document the work of a leading Japanese ballet choreographer, Ms. Tatsua Sata. Shu-Chi Piao describes her recent dance-education research with parents and children at the Cloud Gate School in Taipei, Taiwan.

The final contribution takes the anthropology of human movement into the realm of disability studies in a challenging paper by Beth Marks and Jasmina Sisirak who ask us to rethink our concepts of "health" and "movement" from the perspective of persons with disabilities. I believe that using our anthropological imaginations to include persons with disabilities expands our thinking in important ways, not least in the sense of being confronted with ranges of movement possibility that are extraordinary in ways not previously considered in our field to date. I am most grateful to Beth for coming to the conference and contributing this thought-provoking paper and to the University of Illinois at Chicago for sponsoring her most active participation.

     We found ourselves competing with several other conferences that summer, so attendance at the conference was relatively small. However, many participants expressed their great pleasure in the intimacy this afforded and the possibilities it provided for in-depth discussions that carried over from one session to another or became shared conversations over lunch and dinner. This reminds me that I cannot forget to mention the magnificent food we enjoyed throughout our stay--from the excellent and varied daily Dim Sum lunches to the delicious, seemingly never-ending dishes of the conference banquet, both provided by the Renfrew Restaurant on the HKBU campus, and, finally, to the elegant lunch generously sponsored by HKBU Sociology Alumni Association.

I want to close by emphasizing how central the presence of RWDNY and The Pearl Sea performance was to the overall event, even though this fact cannot be adequately presented in a journal format. There was an equal theoretical partnership between the conference papers on the centrality of body movement to our human-being-in-the-world and the studio work and stage presentation of that very theme.

     Both aspects of the event complemented each other because Robert Wood's distinct approach to the creative process seeks to reveal to the viewer attributes of the dancer's personal and cultural being, as this is constructed through and revealed in his or her movement. Persons are, for Wood, fundamentally moving beings, and his work involves creating environments that allow the mover/dancer to discover this for her-/himself, encouraging and anticipating a state of being that draws deeply on the dancer's unique personal, cultural, and ancestral dispositions, histories, and experiences. The dancer as a person is the primary focus of attention in his work and source of movement material and knowledge, thus complementing the anthropological focus on dynamically embodied personhood in our academic presentations. Wood's work in the studio with the selected dance artists from Hong Kong and members of RWDNY, which resulted in "17 sections of time and space arranged specially for this performance and location" thus deeply complemented and enriched the theoretical thrust of the conference.

Figure 1.51
Figure 1.51. RWDNY Inc., choreographer, dance artists, and friends pose for the camera at The Pearl Sea postperformance reception. From left to right: Mrs. Francis Lee, Mr. Francis Lee, Brenda Farnell, Robert N. Wood, Ling-Fen Chien, Benjamin Mielke, KB Chan, Monica Graves, Emilie Volck, and Vivien Chan.

Brenda Farnell


In addition to the four major sponsors of the event, we wish to recognize the following departments and individuals with sincere thanks for their support:

Hong Kong

    Hong Kong Baptist University

  • Office of the President and Vice President
  • Faculty of the Social Sciences
  • School of Continuing Education
  • Academic Community Hall
  • Department of Music
  • Department of Cinema and Television
  • Office of United International College
  • Estate office
  • Financial office
  • Student Housing Section, Office of Student Affairs
  • Sociology Society
  • China Studies Society
  • Hong Kong Baptist University Sociology Alumni Association

    Mr. Francis Lee

    Australian International School, Hong Kong


Mainland China

    Institute for Cross Cultural Research, United International College 


United States of America

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • Office of the Chancellor
  • College of Fine Arts
  • International Studies
  • East Asian Languages and Cultures Program
  • Center for East Asian and Pacific Studies
  • Department of Dance
  • Department of Theater
  • Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities

    University of Illinois at Chicago

  • International Studies

    Savannah College of Art and Design, Georgia

  • Office of the President
  • Department of Film and Digital Media, Savannah College of Art and Design
  • Department of Performing Arts, Savannah College of Art and Design


On-site Conference Organizing Committee (in alphabetical order)

    KB Chan, Vivien Wai-wan Chan, Maurice Kwok-to Choi, Brenda Farnell, Paul Hockings, Ada Man-ching Lee, Bee Man-wai Lee, Anna Siu-po Lo, Karen Wing-yi Lo, Christie Mei-kuen Tang, Odalia Min–hueng Wong, Cindy Shuet-ying Wong, Robert Wood


The Pearl Sea Project

    Direction and Choreography: Robert N. Wood

    Sound Design and Composition: Robert Miller

    Costumes: Coco Chien

    Lighting Improvisation: David Tang

    Dance Artists: Ling-Fen Chien, Benjamin Mielke, Emilie Volck, Monica Graves, Hofan Chau, Eric Huynh, Connie Lau, Cherry Leung, Man Liu, Katie Ma, Vicky Man, Malvina Tam, Emma Wong, Anson Tse

Figure 1.51


1 Unfortunately, the third keynote address, by Rachel Fensham, was unable to be published here, but see abstracts at the end of the issue.



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