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Editorial Introduction

Brenda Farnell

We might usefully consider the proposition that in the human domain, the physical boundaries of the body in no way delimit the conceptual boundaries of the body, the space it occupies or the actions it performs.

Drid Williams, JASHM 1(1): 2

The classification and categorization of diverse forms of cultural knowledge, understood from the perspective of the knower, continue to inform sociocultural and linguistic anthropology. It follows that the classification of dance forms and other idioms of movement, the body itself, and the space in which an embodied person moves and interacts constitute an important line of inquiry as a primary means to understand semantically laden forms of human action in their cultural contexts.

     Classification, in the form of taxonomies of the body, was the focus of a two-part article by founding editor Dr. Drid Williams in the first two issues of JASHM, published in the spring and fall of 1980. In this now classic article, "Taxonomies of the Body, with Special Reference to the Ballet," she said:

It is here at the level of taxonomies of the body and lexicons of movement used by dancers, ritual agents, or whomever that we can begin to find the sets of facts that will yield information about social and ideological structures, both of the dance or ritual tradition itself and about the society of which a dance, for instance is but an encapsulated example. (Williams 1980: 2)

In this issue of JASHM, we present two articles that continue discussion of this topic. The first, "The Tagalog Body" by Monica Santos, examines concepts of the body employed by speakers of the Tagalog language in the Philippines. Framing her paper in terms of Williams's semasiological distinction between "structural universals" and "semantic particulars," Santos documents a broad array of lexical terms and related idiomatic expressions that shed light on concepts of the body itself, action, spatial orientation, and much more. We learn how, by a process linguists call 'semantic extension,' names of body parts are included in a broad array of adjectival terms describing aspects of persons as varied as character traits, personality, emotional reactions, feelings, attitudes, states of being, and relationships with others. Santos also examines how, for Tagalog speakers (as for all human beings), "the human body provides a simultaneously conceptual and physical basis for orienting oneself and other objects in space." Of special interest is a semantic domain in which human relationships that are socially close (such as parents, siblings, and spouses) are named using metaphorical extensions of terms for internal body parts such as blood, intestines, the chest, and the heart. These contrast with expressions that refer to socially distant relations, for whom terms relating to the legs and arms are appropriate, thereby suggesting a distinctive internal/external opposition in Tagalog conceptualizations.

     We remain within the cultural sphere of the Philippines for the second article, "The Pangalay Dance in the Construction of Filipino Heritage," in which author Joelle Jacinto describes the role that the classification and categorization of dances and dancing continue to play in the politics of forging a national Philippine identity in this multiethnic and multilingual nation. In publications dating back to 1946, we find tensions arising between imposed categories such as "folk" and "ethnic" or "Muslim" versus "Filipino." These are repeated in the subsequent literature, with minor variations perhaps but little scholarly rethinking about the adequacy or accuracy of the categories so maintained or the meaning of this process itself. This is reminiscent of problems that adhere to Curt Sachs's World History of the Dance (1937), a book that retained its popularity as a dance-history textbook long after anthropological criticism of its outdated classification of the world's dances according to nineteenth-century evolutionary assumptions. Adrienne Kaeppler comments, "Although this [Sachs's] book has a place today in the history of anthropological theory, it has no place in the study of dance in an anthropological perspective" (1978: 33; see Williams 2004: 79-80, for further discussion). The same could be said of the foundational texts and 'coffee table books'1 about Philippine dances that Jacinto addresses in her paper.

     The third article in this issue contributes to Jacinto's concerns over the nationalist politics of "cultural heritage" construction but transfers us geographically and ethnographically to Indigeneous North America. Brenda Farnell's article "Indigenous Dances on Stage: Embodied Knowledge at Risk?"2 raises a number of questions about the significance of choreographic transformations that occur when "Indigenous dance forms are removed from their traditional contexts, adapted for stage presentation as entertainment, and subjected to commodification and appropriation for purposes such as post-colonial nationalism, cultural revitalization and education, and/or tourist economies." Since discourses of 'authenticity' frequently emerge in such contexts, Farnell critically examines the related concepts of 'authenticity,' 'authority,' and 'authorship' in relation to dynamically embodied knowledge. Recognizing that not all discourses are politically or morally equal, she offers the concept of "legitimizing processes" as an alternative to both "strategic essentialism" and "discourses of authenticity." Indigenous North America, and the particular performance experiences of a Northern Plains Men's traditional dancer with the American Indian Dance Theater (AIDT) provide the ethnographic context for her inquiry. Her analysis focuses on the semantics of personhood, space, and time, and the impact of the experience on the Indigenous performer, as this relates to the notion of "legitimizing processes."


1 The label "coffee-table book" refers to the familiar format of many beautifully illustrated books on dancing. See Williams 2004: 81.

2 This paper was first presented as the Keynote Address at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Dance Research Society of Taiwan, National Dong Hua University, November 2007, in celebration of the first School of Indigenous Studies in Taiwan. It was subsequently published in the society's journal.


References Cited:

Kaeppler, Adrienne
1978. The Dance in Anthropological Perspective. Annual Review of Anthropology 7: 31-39.

Sachs, Curt
1937. World History of the Dance. Trans. B. Schöenberg. London Allen & Unwin.

Williams, Drid
1980. Taxonomies of the Body, with Special Reference to the Ballet, Part 1. JASHM 1(1): 1-19.
2004. Anthropology and the Dance: Ten Lectures. 2d ed. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.


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