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Editorial Comments

Volume 19, issue 2, of JASHM (Fall 2012) provided readers with a "Special Issue on Movement Literacy." It contained several theoretical discussions of historical importance to the field, with papers by Adina Armelagos and Mary Sirridge, Joseph Margolis, Drid Williams, and Suzanne Youngerman. It included Brenda Farnell's detailed historical and comparative overview of movement-writing within anthropology. The current issue complements our earlier treatment of the subject with clear examples of how anthropologists use movement-writing during their ethnographic field research. It also emphasizes the significance of a movement score to the community whose dance traditions are thus documented and analyzed. To achieve these goals, we present two closely related articles by a team of sociocultural anthropologists and others who have utilized their special interests to document and analyze the dance and music practices of the Lahu Na Shehleh people of Northern Thailand.

     The field research and video documentation were conducted in the minority highland villages of Northern Thailand from 2004–08. The subsequent analytic work was undertaken at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign [UIUC]. The core members of the team and the authors of these essays are Jacquetta Hill, an emeritus professor of cultural anthropology; and Nannaphat Saenghong, a Lahu Na Shehleh translator, cultural consultant, and dancer, now also a graduate student in education at UIUC. They are joined by Kate Grim-Feinberg and Monica FA W Santos, two Ph.D. candidates in the Anthropology Department at UIUC, both of whom specialize in the anthropology of human movement; they are both literate in the movement script, Labanotation.

     The first essay, titled AwHui (Dance-Music) and Ethnic Identity among the Lahu Na Shehleh of Northern Thailand, documents a specific ritual and ceremonial complex that features performance events of the genre, AwHui (dance-music). The authors situate the performances historically and culturally in the broader context of minority highland village communities in Northern Thailand. They use ethnographic evidence that focuses on understanding the dances and their music to reveal the significance of these practices in maintaining Lahu Na Shehleh ethnic identity. We are able to discover the importance to the villagers, whose ways of life are under increasing pressure from new communication technologies, Thai nationalism, and Christian proselytization.

     The second essay, When One Good Shot Is Not Enough: Writing Lahu Na Shehleh Dances with Labanotation, provides explicit discussion of necessary fieldwork, plus methods of documentation and analysis, together with honest appraisals of the many challenges (and a few mistakes) that were made along the way. We think that this ‘insider knowledge' will be of special value to other researchers and students of sociocultural anthropology and dance and performance studies who may encounter similar problems, as well as unique challenges of their own.

     This ethnography raises questions: 1. How do you create video data when the dances are only performed at night? 2. What do you do if the video footage has missed recording what the feet of the dancers are doing most of the time? 3. What do you do with the footage if you recognize the vital importance of this subject to the people who practice these events, but you are not a dance, movement, or music analyst?

     Fortunately, the articles are enriched with visual materials, including video clips of the village site, the dancing itself, the process of movement analysis, and an important statement by a ritual specialist. We have also included photographs and sound clips that illustrate the distinct musical instruments that are used. There are charts and diagrams showing structural features of the ‘dance-music' as well as a taxonomy of Lahu groups.

     The Labanotation movement scores provide rigorous documentation of the danced movements, which includes notation of the accompanying music to show clearly how they are related. The innovative color coding of the notation's graphic signs assists readers in locating stylistic features of special interest. Most important, we learn that a local Lahu Na Shehleh villager who could neither read nor write a spoken language "quickly grasped the idea of how the movements and choreographic structure were represented in the color-coded Laban script."

     This villager recognized that the iconic features of the transcription could be better understood than written words. She saw, too, that the scores, together with the video, would provide meaningful resources for learners who rarely had access to the live presence and performance of experts. The important role of movement scores in the preservation of what the United Nations has recognized as "intangible cultural heritage"1 is evident. The ongoing cultural transmission of AwHui (dance-music) knowledge, central to a people's sense of themselves, is deeply confirmed by this Lahu villager's response, as is the value of writing movement, which is still not well understood by the majority of people in the United States.

Brenda Farnell and Drid Williams, Editors


1 For a UNESCO statement on intangible cultural heritage, see, accessed May 15, 2013.



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