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Editorial Comments

     In this issue, we are pleased to welcome contributions by Diane Wawrejko, Pamela Matt, and Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, three authors new to JASHM readers, while also honoring and mourning the passing of a long-time friend and colleague, Dr. Marjorie Franken.

     Marjorie died suddenly on November 22, 2011, of complications following heart surgery. We here celebrate Marjorie's life and contributions to the anthropology of human movement by reprinting her excellent paper "The Dance and Status in Swahili Society." This paper provides a clear account of how dancing (together with music and poetry) marks distinctions of social class and illuminates social roles in urban, Muslim, Swahili society along the coast of postindependent Kenya, east Africa. Dancing belongs to a category of activities frequently overlooked in the literature on the region, according to Franken. She counters this omission by showing exactly how understanding the uses of the body itself, specific movement patterns, and the public and private spaces in which the dances are performed contribute significantly to our understanding of the nuances of social roles in Swahili urban society, enacting a synthesis that integrates Islamic cultural codes into indigenous Swahili culture. The paper is preceded by a brief personal statement in memoriam from Drid Williams.

     We begin this issue with another fine and detailed paper from Gina Lalli, "Shiva Nataraja: The Spiritual Matrix of Bharata Natyam," in which she carefully documents the role of the form of the Indian god Shiva as Shiva Nataraja, king of dancers, in the temple dances of South India. Lalli argues that understanding the philosophical and metaphysical principles invested in the multisemiotic manifestations of Shiva that she describes is crucial to a full understanding of the dances themselves. She explains that "[w]hen an accomplished dancer practices the forms with a highly focused mind, seeking ever to balance (centering and symmetry in the body), these principles reveal themselves to the dancer." Lalli is able to talk authoritatively about these subjects from the dancer's point of view; that is, she accurately describes the embodied knowledge involved based on her many years of study and performance. Her exegesis also provides evidence of how a dance artist in this genre cannot entertain any division of mind and body: "The majority of serious movement artists know that an integral part of developing an adequate technique that is the basis of a particular dance form is the use of the mind that has to be focused on the ideal form he or she means to project to the audience. In Indian art, this is called bhavana (creative imagination)."

     Readers will also find most illuminating Lalli's clear exegesis of her own approach to danced practice and her experiences with a variety of dance masters, as well as her description of the norms of dance pedagogy. There is no speaking of the body or its parts, no observation of "correct" positions, no breakdown of movements into parts, no asking questions (which would be interpreted as doubting the teacher), all of which contrasts markedly with Western ways of teaching dancing. Additional sections explore concepts of male and female, a theory of emotions and moods and other attributes, and the most ancient Indian text on dance and theater known as Natya Shastra (rules of dance and theater). A masterful treatment indeed!

     This is followed by Diane Wawrejko's stimulating paper "Daniel Nagrin's Dance Portraits: Choreographing Agency," in which she examines the choreography of the American modern dancer and choreographer Daniel Nagrin. Wawrejko grounds her discussion of Nagrin's work in Jennifer Hornsby's ‘causal powers' reading of the human subject as enacting "agent causation." Wawrejko describes how this is apparent in two spheres: first, in Nagrin's unique approach to creating his dances by utilizing acting techniques and blending different genres of American dance. Second, the author suggests that Nagrin foregrounds agency in the movement content of his "Dance Portraits" of the human condition, in which a variety of iconic American characters are portrayed as agentic persons reacting to specific situations. Wawrejko's paper also aims to resituate Nagrin as an artist of American modern dance who has not been fully appreciated to date. At present, she argues, Nagrin's contributions seem to fall outside the accepted historical canon of American modern dance. Wawrejko offers a compelling argument for this being largely the result of New York critics' biases and modernist ideologies of the arts prevalent at the time, positions that seem to have been adopted uncritically by historians. In light of this, Wawrejko suggests the need to develop more accurate historical accounts, based on research that begins with deeper examinations of extant historical source materials, and more thorough, critical analyses of concert works themselves.

     We complete this issue with an insightful commentary by Pamela Matt in which she describes a stimulating exchange of letters with Drid Williams on the subject of Lulu Sweigard and neuromuscular reeducation techniques Sweigard developed that became known as ideokinesis. This series of letters inspired a book-length treatment of the subject by Williams, titled Teaching Dancing with Ideokinetic Principles (2011). Matt's commentary provides interesting contextual information about the origins and development of the book. This is followed by a review of the book by a valued colleague, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, professor of dance at the University of Illinois and author of two significant books on somatic techniques and dance training.

The Editors



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