This article aims to show what dance anthropology is and how it has appeared. Through that, it aims to open a space in which many anthropologists involved in the anthropological study of dance in Japan can share important related literature with each other.
The subject of dance has long been very familiar to anthropology. The phenomena of dance can be seen all over the world, with the category of dance anthropology first appearing in Western academia in the 1960’s. Dance anthropology is a branch of the anthropological studies of dance that positions dance in a sociocultural context. It originated as a separate category with the American dance ethnologist, Gertrude Kurath.
Among various kinds of dance research taking place out of anthropological interest, dance anthropologists have tackled such questions as ‘what is dance?’, ‘what are people doing when they dance?’, and ‘how can we capture the process of dance happening right now?’.
Dance anthropology can be described as a field of dance research based on all the discussions and debates occurring since the time of Kurath, combining a culturally relativistic view of dance with a process-centered approach.
Dance anthropologists currently conduct research on dance around the world using the Study Group on Ethnochoreology of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) as well as the Congress on Research in Dance (CORD) as their bases.
A noteworthy feature since the 1990’s has been the successive publication of several treatises on dance using ethnographic methodology. They are often described as “dance ethnography journals.”
According to Theresa Buckland, a leading dance scholar, dance has gradually emerged from several disciplines: anthropology, sociology, folklore studies, performance studies and cultural studies. With the utilization of ethnographic methodology by dance scholars trained in each of those disciplines, key concepts of participatory- oriented methodology, such as ‘reflexivity’ and ‘embodied knowledge,’ have become more commonly used in dance studies than previously.
For instance, Yasuko Endo, a leading Japanese dance scholar, has introduced Western dance anthropology to Japanese dance research. Since the 1980’s, she has worked with Jiryo Miyao, a theater scholar, to introduce those themes.
Meanwhile, the efforts by ethnomusicologists to examine dance within music studies must also not be forgotten. In recent years, they have tended to focus on dance as an integral aspect of music more than they used to.
Although few anthropologists in Japan know about the academic category of dance anthropology, it will become increasingly important for them to follow discussions in dance anthropology and participate actively in them.