I danced out all my anger at unknown things and at myself for trying to know them

Anna Chwialkowska

In my research, I dealt with the relevance of the auto-ethnographic method for dance historiography using as examples works by dance ethnologists Katherine Dunham (1909-2006), Pearl Primus (1919-1994) and Cynthia Novack (1947-1996).

By means of an extensive literature review and an online research, I first traced the biographies of these three women, as well as their positioning within the specific historical, scientific and artistic-social contexts that significantly influenced their work. I then contextualized their texts with regard to the discourses of the crisis of representation in anthropology in the 1980s, which challenged the authority of anthropologists over their subjects and thus fundamentally questioned anthropological methods. Auto-ethnographic writing proved to be a possible way out of this crisis.

The next step was to delve deeper into the ethnographic works of Dunham, Primus and Novack, with a focus on narratives in which the researchers write themselves into field observations. Furthermore, I made a selection of important quotes and snippets from ethnographic vignettes. From this, I developed categories that grouped the concerns, problematizations and narrative strategies of these dancer-researchers: Identity, Going native, Political awareness, Gender, Honesty and Emotions.

On the one hand, this research project made it possible to increase the visibility of the life’s work of these women, who are excluded from the usual ethnological and dance-historical canon of literature, and on the other hand, it proposed a methodology for a bodily-situated dance historiography.

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Tanzrecherche I danced out all my anger at unknown things and at myself for trying to know them