Research articles

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

Booting the tutu: teachers and dance in the classroom

Ralph Buck (National Institute for Creative Arts and Industries, University of Auckland) focuses on how we might develop sustainable dance education practice in the primary school classroom. He emphasises the importance of changing perceptions about dance in terms of the associations with femininity, ability, performance, mastery of skill and elitism.

Fusion of Australian contemporary dance and Mobius Kiryuho

This paper discusses the exploration of cultural diversity and the creation of common ground and understanding through choreographic practice in a cross-cultural, international collaboration between Mirramu Dance Company (Australia) and Kyoko Sato from the Mobius Kiryuho Institute (Japan). The paper explores the differences and the similarities discovered in each of our culturally specific movement practices, during the creative process of a dance production, Silk, and discusses how these discoveries influenced the choreographic content of the performance.

Dancing into belonging: towards co-presence in place

The paper advocates for the possibilities of dance in community development and place-making contexts through its proposition of a ‘phenomenology of belonging’. From her vantage as facilitator/director of video series Dancing Place, the author observes sensory interactions between participants’ bodies and the sites in which they performed, as enhancing relationality between participants and place.

Conceived as part of an ARC Discovery Project exploring potentials of artistic methods to challenge neighbourhood-based stigma, led by sociologist Deborah Warr, and employing the expertise of screendance artist Dianne Reid to create the video works, Dancing Place invited diverse residents of Wyndham, Victoria, to dance to their favourite music in their favourite local sites. Through reflection upon the project, the author teases out issues of visibility, embodiment, identity, marginalisation and changing relationships to place.

The participants of varied cultural and social backgrounds, age, gender and levels of dance training, inevitably chose to dance in very different styles and places. The paper explores some political and social ramifications of (being represented via video) dancing in relation to place for particular groups and individuals, and outlines the facilitating artist’s motivations for the project’s structural framework. Rather than presuming or contriving a unified ‘community’, the nine distinctively discrete videos were presented side by side, which collectively evoked a sense of co-presence, or parallel belonging.   

Dancing participation: Observations of a long-term group dance improvisation practice

This article discusses participation in a group dance improvisation practice over time. Described, is a regular dance practice and how it is the dancing over time itself that is the situation in which something is ‘going on’. Participating or acting in this practice allows ways of thinking, understanding, experiencing, knowing that exist only while or at least because of the participation in this dancing. The term ‘action’ as suggested by Hannah Arendt in her book The Human Condition, is used as a concept with which to think through the dancers’ experience in a shared practice. Other ideas including Claire Bishop’s participatory art and Tim Ingold’s discussion of ‘drawing together’ are explored to define participating in dancing in a studio practice, and to articulate what is happening and how that participation can be observed.

Placing knowledge in the body: Western Australian choreographers dancing ‘With a Bullet’

This research investigates the studio processes of seven Western Australian choreographers to develop case studies that unpack the memories, emotions, and sensations that illuminate creative decision making in experts. These dance professionals participated in Natalie Cursio’s With A Bullet: The Album Project (2006-7; 2013–4) that invites them to recall the first song to which they ever ‘made up a dance’, and to use this piece of music as a springboard for, and soundtrack to, a new piece of choreography.

The study uses qualitative measures of phenomenological and somatic modes of attention to examine choreographic cognition, with a focus on ‘knowing how’, and other manifestations of ‘feeling’ that a decision is ‘right’, in order to illuminate creative decision making in choreography. I use the choreographers’ memories, emotions, and sensations to interpret their strategies for problem solving in the complex physical, emotional and social space of the studio. Memories and knowledge can take the form of tacit understandings performed during the process of transmission from choreographers to dancers, offering alternative ways of knowing and articulating creative processes.

Cursio’s With A Bullet offered a unique opportunity for choreographers to reflect on their own development as artists, and the research presented here makes a contribution to the ongoing task of placing embodied knowledge on a par with that expressed through linguistic propositions.

Overexposed, yet rarely seen. Dance improvisation as performance in the Australian context

This article details the operations and dynamics of a small yet resilient community of performance practitioners who have been engaged in ‘open improvisation’ as a form for performance. The article also responds to questions about the practice and values of open improvisation. The Melbourne improvisation scene, which has grown up around Cecil Street Studio, fosters a ‘community-oriented’ practice in performance. This practice remains a common, yet often unquestioned one, and defined by an generally accepted set of principles.

In this article, the particular focus is on a group of dance improvisation practitioners (as a subset of improvised performance activity in Melbourne) who established and presented a monthly performance event called The Little Con from 2005–2011. An examination of this marginal event raises questions about its reach and the aspirations of its participants. Would identifying and understanding the values of open improvised performance as they operate in this scene improve or deepen audience reception in Melbourne, but also in Australia more generally? Is it also possible that individual improvisers within the Melbourne improvisation community do not seek to define sufficiently nuanced practices?  Could then, a differentiated range of practices by individuals lead to a more attributable presence for dance improvisation artists and their work? This article does not find definitive resolution to these questions but seeks to activate them within a defined context of practice—a context that is at the same time impacted by activities, practices and approaches to improvisation in an international arena. 

Recommendations arising from the Safe Dance IV research project

In professional dance, as with all physical and athletic endeavours, there will always be a realistic expectation of some musculoskeletal complaints. The information gathered through the Safe Dance research studies develops a better understanding of the changing profile of professional dancers in Australia and their experience of injury. The findings can be used to assist in the tailoring and evaluation of evidence based injury prevention initiatives with the long-term goal of safely sustaining dancers in their professional dance careers for as long as they choose.

Safe Dance IV research survey: data reveals life dedicated to learning & training

In February 2017 we wrapped up data collection for the 4th Safe Dance research project, Safe Dance IV – Investigating injuries in Australia’s professional dancers. This is a continuation of the important work started by Ausdance National almost 30 years ago, which aims to better understand the occurrence of injuries in Australia’s professional dancers as the landscape of professional dance continues to change.   

A vast amount of rich information will be analysed and interpreted in preparation for the launch of the 4th Safe Dance report in late 2017.

Gaps in the body: attention and improvisation

Fraser writes of having arrived at an understanding of improvisation that, rather than being about moving, is about ‘attention’. Instead of using an (imagined) objective view of a body to generate or create interesting or new movements, he employs a kind of noticing from the inside to move with his body, to cooperate with it as it fluctuates and changes. This noticing is full of ‘gaps’ and his attention is drawn to certain physical sites only to be lost as the noticing of a particular area swells, is dispersed or is replaced by a more immediate physical concern.

What’s the score? Using scores in dance improvisation

Olivia Millard explores the use of scores or verbal propositions in improvising dance. Examining the use of scores in her improvisation practice, she discusses what scores might be and might do and how they relate to the real time composition of dance in the present of its making. To help explore these ideas I refer to the theory of Nelson Goodman and discuss the use of scores by other dance practitioners including Steve Paxton, Yvonne Meier and Anna Halprin.

Mapping the experiential in contemporary dance

This research questions how a ‘lived experience’ of contemporary dance could be deepened for the audience. It presents a series of choreographic ‘tools’ to create alternative frameworks for presentation that challenge the dominant modes of creation, presentation and meaning making in contemporary dance. The five tools established and applied in this research are: variations of site, liminality, audience agency, audience-performer proximity and performer qualities. These tools are framed as a series of calibrated scales that allow choreographers to map decisions made in the studio in relation to potential audience engagement. The research houses multiple presentation formats from the traditional to the avant-garde and opens up possibilities for analysis of a wide range of artistic dance works. This research presents options for choreographers to map how audiences experience their work and offers opportunities to engage audiences in new and exciting ways.

The reinvention of tradition—in contemporary Chinese classical dance creations (1980–2010)

Over the past thirty years, Chinese classical dance has developed in parallel with the explicit social process of the search for and the construction of Chinese modernity. Unlike the dismissal of tradition which tended to characterize the western process of modernization, Chinese dance practitioners embrace Chinese national and cultural characteristics for the purpose of cultural continuity as a matter of principle, subscribing to the political slogan ‘inheritance and development.’ This logic of constant change in the nature of Chinese cultural traditions leads to variation in Chinese dance vocabulary and the hybridisation of different dance styles in contemporary Chinese classical dance works. Therefore, this paper proposes that the idea of a reinvention of tradition, based on the premise of the academic establishment of Chinese classical dance as the ‘invention of tradition’, may produce new understandings about the phenomena of variation and inherent contradiction within contemporary Chinese dance creations.

Peace moves: dance, identity and peacebuilding

Dance is a potential asset for peacebuilding, creating opportunities for nonverbal, embodied learning, exploring identity, and relationships. Peace scholars consider identity and relationships to the ‘other’ as key components in transforming conflict. Focusing on a case study in Mindanao, the Philippines, this paper explores the potential of dance in a peacebuilding context through embodied identity and relationships. In Mindanao, deep-seated cultural prejudices contribute to ongoing conflict entwined with identity. The permeable membrane (Cohen, Gutiérrez & Walker, 2011) is the organising framework describing the constant interaction between artists, facilitators, participants, and communities. It expands peace scholar John Paul Lederach’s concept of the moral imagination, requiring the capacity to envisage one’s self within a web of relationships. In this paper multiple methods of qualitative research including personal interviews are used to further the discussion regarding dance’s potential to diversify the nonverbal tools available for peacebuilding.

Linking the tradition to modernity

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring has inspired a plethora of artists in its hundred years of history. As it transcends geographic barriers, it has also been choreographed by many great dance masters such as Maurice Béjart and Pina Bausch from the West, and Hwai-Min Lin and Helen Lai from the East. In this paper, Ting-Ting Chang focuses on the choreographic aesthetics of versions of The Rite of Spring by choreographers Zhang Xiaoxiong and Shen Wei. Zhang’s version depicts images with references both to the original work of Vaslav Nijinsky, and to aspects of Asian culture in a way that is sensitive to the original music and to his memories as a child living in Cambodia. Shen has been known for his organic movement vocabulary and unique way of using Chinese cultural elements. By tracing their separate creative processes, she discuss how choreographers negotiate tradition and innovation through their different choreographic methods and aesthetic visions through contemporary dance.

Emerging choreographies: developing new pedagogies in dance

New dance forums in India have evolved recently, allowing performers to identify conflict areas in performative practice. This development has arisen as a consequence of questioning techniques as exercised in classical dance pedagogy. Aastha Gandhi's research looks into different tools of performance provided by Gati Dance Forum in New Delhi to engage with these techniques through different pedagogical approaches. The learning and unlearning of performance skills constantly challenges the dancer’s perception of audience-performer, body-dance and dance-space relations, vis-à-vis the individual choreography-creating process. The need to challenge the body to go beyond the taught and practised language has consequently developed a distinct performative text, which is visual, verbal and embodied. Deriving from a theoretical idea of Paul Ricoeur’s, the performance text is examined at levels of structural explanation and interpretation, where the different components act as ‘discrete units’ to form an arranged whole and the constituent units acquire a signifying function.

Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre: body, language and fleshing out Irish cultural heritage

Dublin Contemporary Dance Theatre (1979–1989) was a significant company in the development of dance in Ireland, and the first state funded contemporary dance group. For a period, the company were leading innovators in the country in contemporary dance and explored the boundaries of what constituted the dance form, leaving a lasting impact on Irish dance heritage, although relatively little has been written about their work to date. This paper explores the context for the company’s work, discussing the relationship between the body and language in Irish social, political and cultural history. Specifically, I focus on their production Bloomsday based on James Joyce’s Ulysses, which reveals key issues about the relationship between body and language in the company’s work.

Interject: a choreographer’s struggles in one specific site

Interject (a site-specific dance work) was performed on a ledge inside the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts at the University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand in November 2012. This paper reframes a complex picture of web-like connections and challenges around the relocation and re-envisioning of several site-specific choreographies into one specific site. How do you re-negotiate the dance content in a different site? What are the ramifications of an additional dancer? How do you interact/negotiate with the everyday use of the site? Is it a new work or not? These questions are discussed along with the unpacking and interrogation of my journey and a review of the end product as the choreographer in this process. This reframing will make reference to the past and how it has enriched and informed the expanding field of international site-specific dance (Brown 2010, Kloetzel & Pavlik 2009, Hunter 2005) and this particular project.

Dance learning in motion: global dance education

Reports indicate that dance-learning experiences provided for young people in and outside schools impact positively upon young people’s learning in schools, as well as in pre-service and professional development programs for those who teach dance in various settings. Support of major dance organizations as well as the goals of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) affirm the importance of dance education and encourage the research and practice to provide lifelong and intergenerational learning in, about and through dance education. This paper describes the results of a survey questionnaire, which captures the narratives and contexts from lived experiences of university students and graduates in formal, informal and non-formal settings and how those are experienced. This initial study confirmed the power of dance and the significance of dance in peoples’ lives as well as deficiencies in the provision of dance for many.

Conversations on the frontlines of the body

The Australian performing arts collective Remnant Dance has a partnership with a charity organisation that supports an orphaned community in Myanmar (Burma). The creation of a contemporary dance film with this community generated a performance in which young Burmese participants were encouraged to tell their own stories. The film was set in an abandoned glass factory in Myanmar, using glass as a metaphor for a surface that invites reflection as well as open transparency with the young people from the children’s centre. The story of making the dance film Meeting Places offers a case study for reflection on ideas of interconnection through dance making; and a site for engagement with social justice concerns within diverse communities. The creation of new dance through cross-cultural, multi-arts forms and inter-disciplinary contexts enables narratives to emerge through the frontline of dance’s unique communication.

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