Scholar’s Corner: DANCING COMMUNITIES

hamera

Finally, I arrive at a book that is explicitly about dance: Judith Hamera’s Dancing Communities: Performance, Difference and Connection in the Global City (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). Although this book does not have quite the coherent structure or unified argument of the previous two, it does accomplish something that I called for in my previous post: It places ballet and Pilates training (among other examples) side by side and examines them each as embodied practices, rather than segregating them on account of dance’s public role as one of the “performing arts” and the status of Pilates as a personal rather than public practice.

This is an important step because it allows Hamera to show, for example, how ballet training at Le Studio in Los Angeles is as much a personal and social “infrastructure” as a training for public performance. Refreshingly, Hamera does not divide “concert dance” from “amateur practice” — instead she sees both as “laboratories for examining and revisioning the myriad complex interrelations between gender, sexuality, race, class, and culture in urban life” (1). Furthermore, in a sentence that recalls Saba Mahmood’s work (discussed in my first blog post this month), Hamera asserts that “norms and pleasures are literally incarnated, embraced or resisted by particular bodies in specific places and times” (3). This focus on dance as practice as well as performance explores techniques as diverse as “ballet and butoh, Khmer classical dance, Pilates, and modern-postmodern fusion” (9).

I do have to disagree with Hamera’s acceptance of the linguistic metaphor for dance technique, which I have previously critiqued in this very blog. The notion that “dance technique is relational infrastructure” (my italics) is fascinating. But this must not allow a reduction of technique to “a mother tongue … a discursive matrix, a vocabulary and a grammar,” or that which “render[s] bodies readable” (19). If dance technique in some ways behaves like a language, it is nevertheless always more than a language. This is where Mahmood’s point is crucial. Mahmood argues that we cannot “read” the Muslim veil only as a symbol of a value like modesty or piety but must also examine the ways in which it acts as a practice upon the practitioner. In that sense the veil can be seen as a kind of training.

The phrase “relational infrastructure” points to the ways in which technique functions as a medium of communication, but this leaves out a significant dimension of the meaning of technique at the level of embodiment. For example, when Hamera writes about the highly strenuous and at times competitive aspects of ballet training at Le Studio, her analysis remains primarily focused on the social functions and effects of the training. To my mind, this leaves out some of the subtlety of how physical training works on and through the practitioner. Dancers work on themselves through physical training in concrete, physical ways. These processes are not necessarily analogous to speaking and hearing or writing and reading. Furthermore, effort in this context cannot be reduced to a single dimension of quantity. There are many qualities and types of effort.

Hamera’s work is a lively and multifaceted exploration of dance and movement, with a focus on technique that I find especially significant. I also appreciate Hamera’s recognition that even the most rigorous processes of “setting young bodies into the sturdy matrices of technique, discipline and skill” involve the redeployment of those skills “to serve individual and collective ends very different from any official mission” (63). If it was not clear from my previous two blog entries why I believe the study of religious and “fitness” practices is relevant to the ethics of dance, this book should bring that point home.

Ben Spatz
Artistic Director
Urban Research Theater
MR-AIR 2010-2012

COMMENTS (2)

  • Great blog! Sorry to get off subject, but since this is the time for New Year’s Resolutions, I’d like to find a great personal trainer in Nashville TN. Have you heard of any good ones? There’s a new gym called Next Level Fitness, but I’ve only seen a few reviews. Here’s the address of this new Nashville Personal Training Gym, 1917 Church Street Nashville, TN 37203 – (615) 329-2747. Thoughts? Thanks!

Leave a Reply

join our mailing list

upcoming classes & workshops

see all classes & workshops ›

upcoming performances & events

  • No Upcoming Performances or Events
see our performances & events ›

movement research feeds