Research articles

Research papers from our conferences and journals provide an in-depth look at dance topics. Many are peer reviewed.

Undisciplined subjects, unregulated practices: dancing in the academy

This is a working paper in process. It is concerned with the changing status of disciplinary knowledges, in dance and performance, in Australian universities. Although I have been working as an academic within the fields of dance and performance studies for some twenty years, it is only relatively recently that I have begun to reflect critically upon the disciplinary identity of dance studies and dance research, and with some more concrete sense of how these endeavours might be engaged differently.

Movement as metaphor: the construction of meaning in the choreographic art

The manipulation of elements in time for the purpose of creating works of art is common to practitioners in both music and dance. This paper discusses the creation of a contemporary dance work and the ways in which the abstraction of images in modes other than verbal language can present challenges for audiences. In music these issues are not usually clouded by notions of representation as they are in dance. The author discusses the manipulation of abstract qualities in music and dance, presents images on screen and asks “What can dances communicate”. Several important themes arise from the documentation in video and daily journals of a three-year research project funded by the Australian Research Council. The most encompassing of these are the ever-changing dynamic relationships that exist between the choreographer, the dancers, and the ideas and actions which are generated by their interchange. Communication in this context occurs in many modes and is central to the creation of the original work discussed in this case study.

Choreographic treatment of personal movement vocabulary in community dance practice

The field of community dance literature is an emergent one, with very little written about the processes and ethical issues experienced in the dance class, workshops or stage. This paper explores problems identified during the development of a new community contemporary dance work, My Body is an Etching. The work began with a creative concept, endeavouring to collaborate with participants in the creation of a dance solo that was personal and discretely individual in the performance of everyday actions, yet accessible to people from all walks of life. The processes involved the identification of deeply etched or embodied actions and the development of these actions within a choreographed score.

This paper discusses the creative exploration of the concept (that human bodies are etched by their experiences), within the context of community dance and the issues that arise when working with such a concept amongst a community of individuals. It reveals the creative methods for the identification and retrieval of individual movement and the conceptual difficulties encountered when individual uniqueness is absorbed within a work for the masses. It asks what happens when a participant’s everyday or personal movement is reproduced for reasons outside its regular context and examines notions of ownership and the negotiation of power and control. The paper reveals ethical issues in the treatment of others’ movement, and refers to the literature of psychology and phenomenology in aligning the creative enquiry with an intellectual force that is interested in forms of memory and retrieval beyond the episodic.

Teaching and learning dance in a culturally inclusive classroom

Dance is the fastest growing curriculum subject in New Zealand secondary schools. While this is to be celebrated, responding to the diverse needs and interests of students in the classroom is a constant challenge for teachers. In the light of current educational research concerned with student diversity and cultural identity, this paper discusses strategies implemented by one particular teacher to enhance student participation and engagement in her dance class. The focus is on a professional development process and the changes the teacher made in her practice to develop a culturally responsive teaching and learning environment for her students.

The integration of somatics as an essential component of aesthetic dance education

This study looks at how incorporating a somatic approach into dance training can provide an aesthetic experience that engages the whole person and establishes the concepts of feeling and artistry as integrated components of dance education. The research advocates for somatic education to be a feature of dance pedagogy by assisting dancers to differentiate between the tone and texture of feelings on a phenomenological level.

The choreographic language agent

Initiated by London-based choreographer Wayne McGregor and arts researcher Scott deLahunta in early 2000, Entity is part of an ongoing interdisciplinary research project aiming to broaden understanding of the unique blend of physical and mental processes that constitute dance and dance making. One of the research objectives is to apply this understanding to the design of software programmes that can augment the choreographer’s creative process. The first of these programs, the Choreographic Language Agent (CLA), is being built to generate unique solutions to choreographic problems, offering McGregor an alternative set of movement decisions to consider in the creation process. The CLA carries on the tradition of other contemporary choreographers, e.g. Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown and William Forsythe, in exploring the potential of formal procedures for generating unique movement material through their dancers’ interpretations. This essay discusses and contextualises the design work on the early CLA prototypes.

Why dance literacy?

Dance is a set of interconnected knowledges in which we can be fluent and about which we can be literate. Dance offers multiple opportunities for literacy, among them, fluency in the creative practices of dance making and dance writing and bodily and historical understanding of dance traditions. Throughout this paper, I answer the question “Why dance literacy?” envisioning what the concept might mean for the re-valuing of various ways of knowing and for integrating the body, movement, and dancing into education. I also situate dance literacy within current practice in dance, dance education, and dance scholarship.

The cognisant body

Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990, p.73) writes, "Practice is…the linkage of inner knowing and action." Traditional university studio training with specialised vocabularies and techniques often focuses on "the material" rather than on what is "under the material." This paper focuses on the "knowing body" that creates and confirms knowledge through psychophysical experience—a body where symbols, signs and abstract thought are grounded in and through kinaesthesia. In the paper, we explore how in technique, improvisation, composition and choreography, artist-teachers can use reflective processing to honour the body in the mind and the mind in the body.

Mind/body connections

This section presents diverse experiences and concepts to further our understanding of embodied cognition and embodied knowing; incorporating notions of stillness, becoming, sensory awareness, conditions of liminality, kinaesthetic empathy and somatic and therapeutic practices as well as holistic approaches to the theory/practice nexus.

Transcultural conversations

A conversation between dance and visual arts, a collaboration of Japanese traditional with Australian contemporary movement, viewpoints on experimenting with traditional forms and an intercultural project in Malaysia form the basis for papers in this section.

Re-thinking the way we teach dance

These papers focus on the changing nature of dance pedagogy; exploring questions of identity and tradition, embodied learning to teach theory in the classroom, the act of dancing as a research strategy, cultural inclusivity as the heart of curriculum development and effective applications of digital technologies.


Strategies for sustaining dance in the following papers occur from two perspectives: culturally in terms of preserving and contemporising traditions in India, Cambodia and Thailand; and pedagogically through strategies for life-long learning in the tertiary sector and improved teacher training for children.

Dance, stillness and paradox

This paper is about stillness. Using a phenomenological hermeneutic theoretical framework and drawing on my Master’s research Dance and Stillness (De Leon 2005), the poet T. S. Eliot, philosophical writings of Heidegger, Milner, Smythe, de Chardin and others, notions of equipoise and hysteresis, and an underlying Christocentric philosophy, the potential therapeutic value of this stillness is discussed. The Masters research involved creating a dance work, Stillpoint, exampling this notion of stillness. Dancers and watchers were questioned about their experience. Information was sought about the essence of the danced, watched and felt stillness and what constituted the lived experience of it. The ‘Dance of Paradox’ could seem to encompass oppositional currents—flow and undertow—yet not only are these currents symbiotic, they cannot exist without each other. All movement is contained within stillness and stillness is the core of all movement. The dancer who embodies the ‘stillpoint of the turning world’ realises time that is timeless; ultimately transformative.

Qadim—an intercultural contemporary dance collaboration in Malaysia

This paper describes the process of working inter-culturally towards the presentation of a contemporary dance work in Malaysia entitled Qadim. Beginning with the inspiration and initial experiences at the Asia Pacific Artist Exchange Program (APPEX) initiated by The Centre for Intercultural Performance, UCLA, the paper recounts the journey, the obstacles and the challenges faced in cooperative dance-making that is at once personal and global. The dancer-choreographers committed to this project see their role as contemporary artists seeking to have their voices heard amidst growing local and international tensions borne from distrust and political and religious hegemony.

Does the queen of the South Sea like cigars?

During the first (and up to now, last) performance in October 2002 of the carefully and laboriously reconstructed sacred Bedhaya Semang in the Yogyakarta Palace—an aspiration to rival or at least to balance that of the Bedhaya Ketawang in the competing sister city’s Surakarta Palace—the Sultan Hamengku Buwana X, in full Javanese ceremonial dress sat on the upper level of the royal hall, and gave audience to the public for his coronation anniversary. As official videographer of the reconstruction, my attention was on the dance. I was shocked to hear reports that while my eyes were on the dancers rather than the Sultan, at some point he had lit up a cigar during the performance.

Seeing without participating

Nothing feels more antithetical to the spirit of dance than Andy Warhol’s legendary mode of disengagement, his desire to remain uninvolved, unmoved, untouched, both emotionally and kinetically. But Warhol exerted a considerable influence on experimental dance during the 1960s—an influence especially visible in the work of the so-called post-modern choreographers who created their most innovative dances under the auspices of The Judson Dance Theatre. Conversely, Warhol himself was undoubtedly influenced (in ways that have yet to be widely acknowledged) by some of the work he is known to have seen at Judson, particularly the early dances of Yvonne Rainer. This paper will examines that reciprocal exchange of influence.

Choreographing the future: A report on the 2008 World Dance Alliance Choreolab

This paper is a discussion of one observer’s experience of the Choreolab held as part of the World Dance Alliance Global Summit in Brisbane, July 14–18. The Lab was a five-day intensive experience with choreographers Lloyd Newson and Boi Sakti mentoring a diverse group of choreographers and dancers. The report focuses on how the Lab’s goals for international exchange, cultural diversity, and professional development were enacted in the evolving structure of the Lab and in the movement created during the Lab. ‘Creative industries’ and ‘creative campus,’ two conceptions of how the arts are accounted for economically and within university curricula and special events offerings, are also discussed. These concepts are interrelated with the Lab, especially in considering the consequences of each for social and scholarly communities and for the arts within universities. The report concludes with a call for increased awareness of creative industries and creative campus initiatives and their impact on dance within universities and on issues of intellectual property.

Who frames the dance? Writing and performing the Trinity of Odissi

This paper examines the dances and performance spaces created by classical Indian dance patrons and performers, who were moulded into the nationalist mode, premeditated by the bureaucrats and consequently fabricated by the traditional masters, i.e. the gurus. In the absence of an academic institution for dance studies, the non-performers, the bureaucrats and intelligentsia created dance scholars who ultimately furthered the nationalist idea of a glorified dance history. Odissi dance, post independence, reconstructed in its neo-classical avatar, by traditional master-performers, came to be practised mainly by urban women who later became the carriers of the dance form. The paper questions the resultant historiography and engages in a dialogue with the dancers to study the malleability of its boundaries, as established by the gurus and transmitted thence.

The ‘authentic dancer’ as a tool for audience engagement

An engagement with performance is an experiential event. To have a lived experience within a performance construct infers that the experience is somehow ‘more live’. This paper situates the body of the audience member as a site of understanding and meaning making, and challenges the role of the traditional ‘passive’ presentation format and ensuing ethical considerations within that assertion. It looks at the relationships between audience experience and a series of creative tools that facilitate subtle shifts in this traditional dance paradigm. Along with the tools of audience agency, liminality, variations of site and proximity – tools that create engagement via physical interactions with the audience – can ‘performer authenticity’ also become a tool of connection with the audience? This paper looks at the overarching field of contemporary dance, with a primary focus on Western contemporary dance and the traditional dance paradigms prevalent in the construction and presentation of that form. It outlines the role of the experiential within this form and highlights established research and creation tools that encourage audience connection via audience interaction. It also looks at the role of the dancer within this construct, citing both current qualitative research into audience responses, as well as current theory and creative practice from an international field of artists creating work with the ‘authentic dancer’.

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