Dance in the American Archive

Where can we access dance histories – histories rich with cultural and political resonances across boundaries of race, nation, and beyond? Dance happens for but a moment; we see it as soon as it’s gone. But the archives hold traces – of the stage, of the street, of the club, of the choreography. The archive is a repository of historical materials – videos, programs, reviews, letters, ephemera, and more. While dance studies is a field that centers the body itself as a cultural product and a cultural producer, this seminar will think through the ideologies innate to American dance archives (their construction, organization, access, and funding structures). As a resource for teaching dance histories during and after COVID, we will both explore the many, vast dance archives digitally available to students and teachers and work to understand how these archives carry racialized logics in their very construction of historical canons. This seminar will tackle practical questions (Where are these archives, and how can I use them in my classroom?) and theoretical problems (How can I integrate the available dance materials into my teaching without perpetuating the centering of whiteness that characterizes many dance histories?). This seminar asks, whose histories are preserved? how? and why? What kind of dance and dancer populate American archival space, and what institutional rationales support the building of dance history through archival preservation? We will explore ways to understand both this dance studies content and these larger structural questions, as two sides of one coin.