No museum for folk dance

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Last summer I travelled through the ancient Lycian territories in Turkey, where I found notes in almost every historical site that one or several important historical artefacts are located in the UK. When I went to the British Museum, I found almost all missing parts from the Lycian historical sites, including one which was essential to decode the Lycian scripts. I was astonished at the size and importance of the UK’s colonial power from the past and became as sorrowful and angry as a liberal woman could be.

The UK’s colonial past is just one example of injustices done to indigenous communities across the world. Another issue that I care about is representation of traditional culture in museums. As an anthropologist and a dance curator, I have several tools to change this power distribution. ‘New museology’ is perhaps the most disruptive concept, aiming to narrow the gap between the so-called ‘source community’ and the museum, and create ‘contact zones’ where diverging social groups could interact. Moreover, social dance within its’ natural adaptation of contemporary tendencies fits into the concepts of a new museology, meanwhile participatory folk dance face several challenges.

New museology

New museology approach has emerged in 1980s with the goal to encourage museums to look for inter-disciplinary approaches and increase partnership between the museum and community. Similarly, this new trend seeks to shift the ownership of the museum artefacts and to transform the museum itself. Peter Vergo in ‘The New Museology’ describes ‘new museology’ in contrast with ‘old’ museum practices:

‘The ‘old’ museology is that it is too much about museum methods, and too little about the purposes of museums’ (Vergo 1989:3)

So according to Vergo, ‘new museology’ is supposed to concentrate on aims and critically rethink the tools used to educate, entertain and provoke an audience. Moreover, different types of visitors have different expectations, and each visitor’s, scholar’s, art lover’s or child’s view point and needs should be taken into consideration by the museum creators and curators. Vergo invites to reflect the value of the exhibition artefact and analyse it through the perspective of political, ideological or aesthetical influence. In other words, we should be aware who establishes the particular historical significance or beauty and ‘what makes certain objects, rather than others, ‘worth’ preserving for posterity?’ (Vergo 1989:2). Undoubtedly, the answer to this question reveals the power distribution between the museum and the audience. 

Ludmilla Jordanova in her chapter ‘Objects of Knowledge: A Historical Perspective on Museums’ (Jordanova 1989) explores the knowledge in the context of the museum and states that the knowledge is generated mainly via ‘an imaginative process’. Furthermore, objects are just a tool in order to tell the story, so every museum produces different stories and histories by displaying different artefacts. In this case, museum exhibitions should be treated as a presumable construct with a particular viewpoint or / and a storyteller.

Source community  

During the last two hundred years, those in power took the historical artefacts in order to preserve and display them in ethnographic expositions. As a result, artefacts, together with their interpretations and representations belonged to the collectors – museums. Western ‘collectors’ felt the need to take these historical artefacts in order to save them from possible extinction. Nonetheless, during recent decades, the power distribution has been shifting and the owners – museums became more willing to share their ownership of artefacts with indigenous communities. Source communities (originating communities) (Citvarienė 2014; Krouse 2006) nowadays are often involved in the process of exhibition design and display as consultants and collaborators. Sometimes source communities are the main visitors and museums are interested in how they perceive an exhibition and their display in particular.

Even though new museology ideas encourage institutions to shift the ownership of historical and cultural artefacts, Susan Applegate Krouse in article ‘Anthropology and the New Museology’ argues that: ‘Communities who seek to increase their representation in museums must often battle for that privilege, and for the right to tell their own stories.’ (Krouse 2006:180). So if the museums following ‘new museology’ approach genuinely seek to shift the power distribution and transform the ownership of artefacts, than first of all they should abandon their long-standing privilege to create the narratives of artefacts. Though museums often do not have a lot in common (social status, political and ideological environment, or aesthetics) with source community, they still produce their history and their viewpoint. In order to avoid misrepresentation, the exhibiting institution should empower the source community to ‘tell their own story’ and be heard by curators; the source community can give accurate context of the particular artefact to the museum audience. My personal experience in the Tate Modern art gallery testifies that the short video clips with artists talking within their daily life and socio-political environment made me more interested in their art objects exhibited in Tate.

It is important to mention that only when the source community is not capable to present their history to the audience, museum people should enter this process, because historical objects misrepresentations were made by museum not by communities themselves.       

Still, it is evident that objects and their source communities are not always fully represented; indeed, we should be aware that not all community and details can be represented. Sometimes it can happen because of cultural differences when not all details can be revealed or because sometimes just most active and concerned people are interested in community representation.

Contact zone

As discussed above, museum is the platform to transmit someone’s ‘truth’ or knowledge, and this place by itself became problematic and susceptible for complex power relationships. When we have several communities, whose story and ‘truth’ the museum is going to choose? On whose side lies the power?

James Clifford in article ‘Museums as Contact Zones‘ (Clifford 1997) defined contact zone as place where geographically and historically isolated communities meet or are forced to meet, and in that zone permanent contact is created. Moreover, the author argues that when the museum becomes the contact zone it loses the function of ‘museum-as-collection’ and faces challenges and responsibility of shifting political, historical and moral relationships between communities. The contact (in the museum) is supposed to erase the discrepancy and stimulate empowerment and continuity of positive connections. Most importantly:

Contact zones are constituted through reciprocal movements of people, not just objects, messages, commodities and money.’ (Clifford 1997:195).

Moreover, museum operates as a place of transcultural encounter and supply artists and communities with advantages and disadvantages of cultural and communal interchange. Nevertheless, contact zone as one of the museum’s functions is criticized because of its social responsibility: according to Weil (1995), museum should be more modest in healing social ‘diseases’ which they did not cause. On the other hand, a museum that enters the social life is also doing it for pragmatic reasons, because museums are bound by their communities and the newfound harmony might increase the number of visitors who are essential to the survival of a museum.

Dance in a new museum

Impermanence

The connection between dance and the museum are relatively new subject. Franz Anton Cramer notes that ‘coupling dance and the museum is a phenomenon of the early twentieth century.’ (Cramer, 2014:24). Meanwhile, Clair Bishop states that: ‘The current love affair between museums and dance is in part an acknowledgment of the longevity of visual art’s relationship to dance: from the historic avant-garde to Black Mountain College to post-punk.’ (Bishop, 2014:72). However, historically dance was eliminated from museums and galleries, together with other performing arts. One of the reasons was the impermanence of this art form. Claire Bishop (Bishop, 2014:72) suggests that dance is more than just entertainment, however, the unity of dance and the museum is challenging because each trend is settled down and in order to change it we need considerably more efforts.

Museums and galleries mostly use tangible and permanent objects and this trend has historically settled over 200 years. Moreover, dance adapted to this rule and artists and curators present dance on screens via video recording technologies. Furthermore, a new strategy of ‘medial transfer’ (Cramer 2014) is taken into consideration as a possibility for dance involvement in the museum space.  Even recent dance display through the ‘media transfer’ obey the non-momentary museum concept. On the other hand, Boris Charmatz’s ideas (Museum’s manifesto, 2014, discussed below) of moving museum and Musée de la Danse (Dancing Museum) that sprang from these ideas celebrate the concept of permanent and intangible dance museum.

Dance arrogance and the context

Non-momentary and tangible exhibitions usually are contextualized by verbal notes (plates next to the painting, live or recorded guide stories) or visual expressions (films, pictures). However, there is well known thought that dance (as well as music) is a universal language and it does not need explanations and contextualization. Is the dance universal or do we make the mistake by presuming that audience do not need the context? Maybe this presumption puts a spoke in wheel of dance entering into the museum. Thus, how we suppose to introduce dance context?

Bishop in her article ‘The Perils and Possibilities of Dance in the Museum: Tate, MoMA, and Whitney.’ (2014) discusses thee cases of dance in the museum and indicates context as one of four main problems in this field. Dance normally exists in a ‘black-box theater’ and the displacement to ‘white-cube institution’ requires adaptations, and displacement does not always translate to added value. Bishop warns about the negative and positive aspects of displacement in her article as well.

Accessibility

Another issue of dance in the museum is accessibility: unlike ‘black-box theatre’ whose tickets are often too expensive for many public members, the museum allows people to experience professional dance. At the same time, the museum environment modifies dance piece and museum visitors should not expect to see the same performance as in the theatre. Moreover, museum tenders more spectators then theatre does, but quantity is exchanged for quality: a museum cannot dictate rules of participation, and spectators can go away at any time if they are not interested. Constant circulation of the people in the museum space is another challenge for choreographers and curators, but it can be treated positively and then the outcome will bring more perspective to both dance and museum development.

Social dance in a museum

Social dancing is in all people’s life: when we dance in the wedding, in the club, in front of the mirror inside our rooms, when we move our body for fun in front of our friends’ eyes, or when we move limbs accord to music in our headphones. There is no clear line, however, distinguishing social dance from folk dance. Nevertheless, social dance can be incorporated more in dance research and particularly in the intellectual considerations of the new museology.

New museology challenges nationalism and the concept of authenticity as well as time, space, ownership and creativity. Boris Charmatz in his manifesto (2014) for the National Choreographic Centre produced ten commandments which encourage us to refuse all restrictions which came from the institutionalised museum’s past. At the same time, these commandments get the gist of the dance positioning within the new museology conceptual framework, and this manifesto could stand as a cornerstone for each modern dance movement around the world. Here, we are going to take several of the Charmatz’s commandments in order to develop the possibilities for social dance in the museum. 

Social dance museum manifesto

Museum emphasizes the notion that every member is an artist and the museum is a result common work together and separately. Social dancing phenomenon in a museum is a construct of each individual as well as collective effort. Whenever a person or a group does something related to dance, it creates the social dance museum with one condition – this activity should be oriented to obtaining pleasure. Social dance museum is the museum of artists with the purpose of joy.

Moreover, social dance museum is eccentric, because it does not have the usual (museum) ambitions to represent (tell the story) of dance styles or the variety of dance; its only aim is to catch the interest of the people and encourage them to explore more. Moreover, social dance museum is a transgressive museum, as it does not support the dance world hierarchy. There is no choreographer ‘the great’ and the ‘ownership’ of ‘authentic’ art work, which must be respected and preserved. Rather conversely, social dance people, place, time stimulate the replication of motives, styles and everything else. There you will find a plagiarism of everything what you can see around and it will never be put it any kind of evaluation or hierarchy, because all that is desired is to stimulate contact zone where people could communicate through dance without the presence of ‘ownership’ and ‘authenticity’.

Social dance museum is permeable and alive because there is no need to fix an identity or reject people’s ideas because of the different identity, race, gender, age, social status and so on. Every moving body can perform there and every physical movement can be considered as social dance. So, the museum seeks to cooperate and incorporate every person (visitor, administration staff, thinker and curator) into the creative processes where every material shifts according to the external world values and influences because all these element are essential threads of social dance.

Social dance museum is immediate and we do not need to prepare for it. Moreover, social dance museum wants to provoke new ideas and new standards, and seek original creative connections between different people despite their training, race, gender, age, social status and else. In this place every person can dance and that is all we need to know about social dance. There is no need to revive a particular dance style, judgements of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ dance, because people had been classified into the ‘dancers’ and the ‘non-dancers’ for too long.

Social dance museum combines different time dimensions: permanence reaches into the very dance essence – every living being can dance, and this approach contains an archetypical quality which is common in lots of cultures. At the same time, impermanence is alive too – dance happens and it disappears. Environment adjusts the complex temporality of the time concepts, and in this place we are looking towards permanence meeting temporality.

And finally, social dance museum will not have expositions and any kind of contextualization, because every creative process will rise from people as a ‘grassroots’ movement. In this case, context will be the people themselves and their experiences.

Folk dance and a new museology

Social dance fits well enough into Charmatz’s manifesto ideas; meanwhile, participatory folk dance hardly fits into this vision, although generally both folk dance and social dance can be placed in the museum. However, folk dance is impeded by the fact that new museology tries to avoid nationalism and discover ‘universal nationality’: 

‘And then the “national” too isn’t sufficient anymore. The mental space of a far-reaching action must be at least locaglobaleuroperegioninternationabrittranscontinensouth.’ (Charmatz 2014).

The locaglobaleuropereg… nation supports the popular globalization trend and establishes dance community’s need to keep abreast with contemporary world where the concept of nation becomes questionable, although a cultural truism based on ‘nation’ notion thrive around the world. So, what possibilities does the folk dance hold in the context of new museology?

Andriy Nahachewsky (1995) established two ethnochoreological folk dance categories: participatory and presentational. In this case, participatory folk dance has several similarities with social dance and sometimes participatory and social dance are used as synonyms. Participatory and presentational dance classification is based on different communication during the dance: in participatory dance, dance process is more important than the result, and the main concern is dancer’s feelings; dance happens spontaneously and locates itself in casual places. In this section, we will discuss participatory folk dance possibilities and challenges in museum sites, employing the author’s eight years’ experience in Lithuanian traditional dance clubs as the background.

Nowadays participatory folk dance is often segregated from contemporary artists’ explorations and overlooked by gallery curators. A salient example of this phenomenon is Post-Soviet bloc and Northern Europe, where folk dance has culturally stablished place and form (mainly outside the museum). However, a collaborative project ‘Performer – audience interaction. A potential for dance art?’ by Gediminas Karoblis, Sigurd Johan Heide, Marit Stranden, Siri Mæland and Egil Bakka look into the Norwegian folkdance as participatory art material and try to provoke interdisciplinary collaborations: ‘Therefore, as a point of departure we claim that folk dancing should be felt, touched, danced and experienced from close enough distance to use the tactile, kinaesthetic senses in addition to vision.’ (Karoblis et al. 2015). Even though this initiative does not seeks to bring participatory folk dance into the museum, it is a good example how participatory folk dance goes beyond its preconceived limits and such a kind of collaboration is essential for further folk dance development. However, what advantages and challenges participatory folk dance meet in the new museology?

Nevertheless, what advantages and challenges participatory folk dance meet in the new museology?

First of all, we should be aware that folk dance or historical dance is considered as ‘authentic’ but it is not. Because every museum exhibition is created by someone and it is history fiction because it is not possible to represent all context in the museum: political, social-cultural, economic environment. Even this kind of information is available, we are affected by contemporary world and its’ aesthetics and in case, we do not evaluate same dance as people did it in the past. So, notion ‘authentic’ become tricky and vogues and the new museology suggests to avoid it.

Another important question lies in representation: who is the source community and how we represent them by folk dance? There we have one more fiction that dance represents community. However, new museology states that community can be represented only by community itself. Moreover, dance is just a toll to intrigue people for deeper research. Considering that museum in any case operates the power, museum curators should be aware of every folk dance selection: whose dance version, what historical period, which community will be represented.

Different audience: visitor, scholar, art lover or children has different needs and they may not want to participate in folk dance activity. Curators should take it into the consideration and modify this activity. As well, folk dance activity should be selected according to different age groups and sometimes gender.

Participatory folk dance in the museum has lots of benefits, however, the communication platform in Lithuanian context is the most important function. Daiva Citvarienė (2014) in her article ‘Šiuolaikinis muziejus ir jo bendruomenės’ (Eng. Contemporary museum and its communities) bring the Jewish museum example. Jewish community in Lithuanian still face anti-Semitism and the innovative Jewish social-cultural exposition creates the communication platform between Lithuanian and the Jewish community. In this case, Jewish participatory folk dance can bring vivid and positive connections between the two communities.

Conclusions

New museology seeks to shift the ownership of the museum artefacts and as well to rethink the long-standing ‘old’ museology. Source community and contact zone is useful concepts which analyse the community role in the museum. Moreover, this museum activity is criticised for ‘the healing social ‘diseases’’, however, in my personal opinion, museums should deal with these problems, which it face and this case, action is just positive reaction. 

Social dance is a powerful toll in this ‘old’ museum reconstruction movement, because it is volatile and does not agree with ‘ownership’ and ‘authentic’ notions. Meanwhile, participatory folk dance fits in the borders of the new museology but struggle with ‘nation’ concept and the ‘authenticity’. However, all these tricky concepts can be resolved creatively and enrich museum environment.

References

Bishop, C. (2014) The Perils and Possibilities of Dance in the Museum: Tate,
MoMA, and Whitney. Dance Research Journal. Vol 46/3. pp. 63-76.

Charmatz, B. (2014) Manifesto’ Musée de la danse.

Citvarienė, D. (2014) Šiuolaikinis muziejus ir jo bendruomenės / Contemporary museum and its communities. Acta Academiae Artium Vilnensis. Vol. 74. pp. 31-44.

Clifford, J. (1997) Museums as Contact Zones. In: Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Cambridge, London: Harvard University Press. pp. 188–219.

Cramer, F.A. (2014) Experience as Artefact: Transformations of the Immaterial. Dance Research Journal, 46/3. pp. 24-31.

Gore G., Grau, A. (2014) Dance, cultural heritage, and the training of future heritage “managers”: Anthropological reflections. (Re)Searching the Field. Festschrift in Honour of Egil Bakka, Fagbokforlaget Vigmostad & Bjorke AS, pp. 117-138.

Jordanova, L. (1989) Objects of Knowledge: A Historical Perspective on Museums. In: The New Museology. London: Reaktion. pp. 21-40.

Karoblis, G., Bakka, E., Stranden, M., Heide, S. J., Mæland, S. (2015) Performer – audience interaction. A potential for dance art? Research Catalogue. An international database for artistic research. Norwegian Artistic Research Programme.

Krouse, S. A. (2006) Anthropology and the New Museology. Reviews in Anthropology. Vol. 35/2. pp. 169-183.

Nahachewsky, A. (1995) Participatory and presentational dance as ethnochoreological categories. Dance Research Journal, 27(1). pp. 1-15.

Vergo, P. (1989) The New Museology. London: Reaktion.

“Somehow everyone knew how to dance”

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“Anyone does not teach us to dance but somehow everyone knew how to dance” – Ona said. Is it any magic here? How people learned to dance? Does a previous dance experience is useful there?  Does the knowledge in Lithuanian traditional dances make sense in the Swing dance learning?

In order to examine the process of learning, scholars explore various questions; in particular, this essay is going to inquire how the prior dance experience affects perception of a new dance. During the encounter with new dance material, most people face difficulties. The essay will analyse what these difficulties reveal; whether they reflect person’s past experience, or do they echo the person’s presence; how do we know which difficulties are determined by the previous experiences, and which – by the social context and cultural differences?

There is evidence that initial dance learning influences dance evaluation. In an interdisciplinary neuroscience and dance study, Louise P. Kirsch, Kim A. Drommelschmidt and Emily S. Cross (Kirsch et al. 2013) bring broader and deeper understanding by analysing how dance experience affects dance evaluation of 60 dance naïve[1] people. The study showed that dance training makes an impact on dance evaluation. During the one-week training, the ability to perform dance sequences increased as well as the pleasure of observing that dance. ‘This pattern of findings suggests that the experience of learning to embody an action may play a crucial role in how much pleasure one derives from watching that action.’

However, the question remains whether former dance experience affect learning process as well? In order to investigate this issue, I explore ‘old’ and ‘new’ dance experience from a personal perspective. Swing dance in London has been chosen as the ‘new’ dance genre, because I never danced it before and never had a chance to study swing dance history. In contrast to the unfamiliar swing dance, Lithuanian traditional dance is the ‘old’ dance genre, because it is part of my vernacular culture and has been the main research subject of previous university studies. My experience in Lithuanian traditional dances is much wider and it consists of continuous interest and involvement in various activities for more than 11 years. I encountered social dancing during the family feasts with my family members, and dancing with old people in my university and my own fieldworks around the country. Also, I participated as a dancer and musician in several dance clubs and as the organizer and researcher in Lithuanian traditional dance movement. Both swing and Lithuanian traditional dancing are in the group of couple dances (partner dances), and this essay will also try to answer how the partner can affect the learning process.

Swing and Lithuanian dance history

A brief review of dance history is necessary for deeper contextual understanding and exposing the processes and relationships between the two social dance traditions (Nahachewsky 1995). Lithuanian folk dance has similarities with Polish, Latvian and Belorussian folk dance[2]. In the middle of 19th century, improvisation-based social couple dancing (partner dancing) became the most popular choreography in this region. Though, alongside the couple dancing, other forms of choreography also existed: sutartinės (ancient and complicated polyphonic songs which is performed together with dancing), rateliai (circle dances), and žaidimai (singing games).

Folk dances are usually accompanied by instrumental music (various types of accordions, violin and drum) and sometimes singing as well. Couple dancing is loosely choreographically structured in space, whereas group dances follow a more defined plan. Dances consist of consecutively repeated movements, steps and figures. Lithuanian traditional dance is distinguished for vivaciousness: fast spinning, rhythm stepping by foot, amusing singing, vigorous hails and whistles.

Meanwhile, swing dances according Howard Spring (Spring 1997) and Jonathan David Jackson (Jackson 2001), were developed within African-American community and as a new improvisation-based dancing style, it spread and became popular in the US in the late 1920s. Swing has developed simultaneously with jazz music and ‘the dynamic relationship between musicians and dancer, in particular the musicians’ responses to the commercial and aesthetic demands resulting from changes in social dance’ (Spring 1997: 183). The media technology development was the catalyst for swing entering the America pop-culture scene. According to Eric M. Usner (Usner 2001), while swing dance was used in pop-culture to convey the ‘unified (black and white) national consciousness’ during the wartime, the ‘black’ swing history conveys the condition of disenfranchised people who were exploited as ’blackface minstrelsy’ for the audience’s pleasure.

Both Lithuanian social dancing and swing social dancing historically discontinued. Lithuanians stopped dancing because of the intervention of stylized folk dance and song ensembles which was the part of Soviet Union cultural and propaganda agenda in the occupied countries. In the meantime, swing social dancing popularity has passed and overlapped with the popular dance styles that followed.

Contemporary Lithuania folk dances can be summarised into three directions according to dance function: stylized stage (sceninis stilizuotas), authentic stage (sceninis „autentiškas“ ) and authentic social (socialinis „autentiškas“) folk dancing (Jurkute 2011). The last one, authentic social dancing in Lithuania is called ‘traditional dancing’, because this direction seeks to recreate and revitalize 20th century social dancing tradition. Lithuanian stylized stage and authentic stage folk dances have more developed teaching techniques, while traditional dancing is very new (approximately 15 years) and does not have established dance learning patterns and roles. Meanwhile, contemporary neo-swing dancing (Usner 2001) returned in the 1990s firstly as the ‘unique selves (expression) associated with nostalgic and vintage images of a forgotten swing dance era’ (Rershaw 2006: 85). In the late 1990s, neo-swing social dancing spread widely in California, New York and Philadelphia. Nowadays, various swing dances (Lindy-hop, Charleston, Balboa, Blues and others) are widespread around the world and almost all bigger cities have swing clubs.

Dance learning

In order to investigate the learning process, I participated in three different style classes: general swing, lindy hop and blues in different London swing dance clubs. During these three workshops, I have noticed that:

  1. The gender distribution was about thirty percent men and seventy percent women.
  2. About thirty percent of participants attended for more than the first time and knew the steps and their roles.
  3. The teacher rushed and did not repeat the steps and steps’ sets (sequences), even when many participants failed to learn the movements.

Leading role

In the swing dance, the leading role is strongly expressed and one (usually male) person leads the couple through the dance. During the lessons, teachers named these roles[3] as ‘follows’ and ‘leads’. Two times I danced the ‘leads’ part because of the lack of men. The teacher emphasized that ‘follows’ should listen and follow the ‘leads’, though, almost all ‘follows’ were too busy with steps and sequences and did not follow the ‘follows’. When ‘follows’ do not listen and look attentively, ‘leads’ cannot fulfil their main role – to lead. The power distribution between the pair are concentrated on one person and represent the swing era’s traditional values (Usner 2001), where women followed in the dance and in the other social areas (family, educational institutions, religion, leisure activities). Even in neo-swing dancing, according to some teachers, the ‘follows’ should learn general dance steps, but finally they must concentrate on ‘leads’s’ dance interpretation. However, in modern urban society people are used to focus on the individualization and equality, and are not familiar with life and dance ‘follows’ rule. In this case, the learning process of swing becomes difficult long-term task because it requires to modify their physical and psychological independency skills.

Improvisation

However, these strict roles have exceptions and overlap, which confirms that the only one swing rule is the overall improvisation. J. D. Jackson (Jackson 2001) states that improvisation requires good knowledge and he advocates that the improvisation perception as the non-choreography is Euro-centric approach. He quotes Puri and Hart-Johnson[4] who argue that ‘whether a dance is considered to be improvised or composed depends on culturally specific distinction that reflect the values of a given society’. Jackson argues that according to the African-American sociocultural context, the distinction does not exist and the improvisation is realized as ‘creative structuring’.

Lithuanian traditional couple dancing has strong patterns of improvisation (Ragauskienė, 2007: 5); unfortunately, traditional dance in Lithuania is overlooked by most of professional dancers because of the untidy choreography. However, the improvisation in traditional dancing has roles and structure and it can be divided into three levels: step improvisation, couple improvisation (between two dancers) and spatial improvisation (Rubikiene 2015: 81). Meanwhile, swing dance is much more improvised than Lithuanian traditional dance, and Jackson uses classification from jazz music to distinguish the three main parts of dance improvisation: riffing, vamping and break (Jackson 2001: 49). Improvisation is very important part of swing dance learning and various instructors teach it in different ways. All in all, classification of dance improvisation helps to understand main patterns and allow dancer to master the ‘creative structure’. Even the most complex elements of dance improvisation must be simplified in order that people learn and understand it. The simplification helps new students to get a grip on the new dance, however, it hinders the development of dance and limits the variety of dance expression.

Social acceptance

During my Lithuanian traditional dance and neo-swing dance experience, I noticed that both communities easily accept participants of different races, body types and age. Meanwhile, professional dance community is still stuck with the ideal dancing body aspiration and overlooks elderly dancers.

Jill Green in her experimental studio (Green 1999) discussed ideal body construction in dance education. She investigated body perception of 5 undergraduate female dancers through discussions and somatic practices during her two terms course. All these women encountered an ‘authoritarian’ teaching model and shared the feeling of the ’dominance by powerful instructors’ who continuously forced dancers to seek for the ideal dance embodiment and ideal body. Research participants claim that ‘dancers cannot succeed in the dance world if they are perceived as slovenly, lazy, or fat’ (Green 1999: 94). Moreover, the bodily appearance sometimes even impacted the grades during the assessment process. The social and direct pressure to maintain perfect body caused eating disorders, exhaustion and other health problems, while the pressure to perform ideal movements despite the idiosyncratic body construction and abilities caused pain and injuries.

Meanwhile, in neo-swing and Lithuanian traditional social dancing, there is not one ideal body shape, movement, weight or strength. Social dancers’ community is often representative of the society and if different body shapes, movement, weight or strength exist in society, they are likely to emerge in social dance halls, too.

During my fieldwork in Lithuania’s countryside, I met a lot of old singers and dancers who refused to perform folklore pieces because of their old age, even though they were respectable people in the society and incredibly good singers and dancers. Almost everyone said that they are too old to perform and their neighbours will laugh at them. While all people face senility, aging affects dancers most painfully, because they treat their body as an instrument, the leading form of self-expression and creativity. Steven Wainwright and Bryan S. Turner explored ballet dancers’ retirement (Wainwright & Turner 2004) through 11 interviews with the retired professional ballet dancers. The interviews revealed extreme fear of aging and of being retired in the ballet community. The success of Jérôme Bel’s “Véronique Doisneau” also shows that retirement and aging do not get enough attention in the dance community: even though it strongly defines the dancer’s future, it is still a taboo. On the other hand, Jennifer Jackson in her article (Jackson 2014) argued that London has a wide range of institutions and societies which cultivate elderly dancers’ involvement in community dancing. All in all, swing dance is a highly potential area for enjoyment and a great employment opportunity for elderly dancers due to its latitude and improvisational roots. Elderly dancers typically have extensive experience which may make them exceptional improvisers.

Difficulties

In one month, I attended three swing classes (swing, blues and lindy-hop) in different places in London.  Short conversations with other participants and note-taking during the dance sessions were the main methods for exploring neo-swing dance learning. In this section, I am going to analyse three main difficulties which I encountered during the learning process, and identify three possible factors which could determine these difficulties: prior dance experience, social habitus and cultural differences.

Difficulties Factors that determine them
Long step combinations Prior dance experience
Changing of the partners Social habitus
Verbal communication Cultural differences & prior dance experience

Long step sequences

Neo-swing lessons are based on learning step-by-step dance combinations. However, during all the three lessons, I did not manage to repeat all step combinations correctly. This could be due to lack of prior experience: I saw all steps and tried to repeat them, my body was not adapted to it and not used to maintain hand raised at waist level, knees’ swing, and the tense keeping of the partner’s hand. The only dance training which I had had was Lithuanian traditional dance. Overall, this experience taught me to concentrate on the brief footstep combinations and follow the partner and his dance variations. So, the first important factor which made it difficult to learn long dance sequences was the prior dance experience. It was relevant to me and is likely to be relevant to everyone who is learning new dances.

Changing of the partners

The three lessons which I attended did not require to have a single partner, because learning was based on the principle of couple rotation. So, within each 3-minute interval the participants were changing their partners. I felt uncomfortable, because I did not knew these people and I was not sure how to dance with them. In this situation, prior dance experience and  deficient verbal communication in English were relevant – if I knew swing dance steps, some strain would have been released. Nevertheless, in my view, the essential factor was the formal push to dance with an unknown person. I danced Lithuanian traditional dances for more than 11 years with lots of people, however, in our traditional dance culture we can always choose the partner. So, I used to dance with dancers who appreciate me or I appreciate him or her. With regards to swing dance, I found myself in a place where the environment forced me act against the habitus of Lithuanian traditional dance (Bourdieu 1986), which is the engrained social norm that allows dancers to choose partners, or be chosen. That habitus was strongly embodied in me, which I did not realize it until the circumstances have changed. The new social environment with different social norms caused the resistance because the established habitus did not coincide with the different social environment. The strong emotional reaction suggested that this experienced emotional difficulty was brought about by the violation of my social habitus.

Verbal communication

Fluent verbal communication is very important part in the dance learning process. Through the learning process, predominantly British teachers used to make jokes in order to cheer up the learning atmosphere. However, I did not understand the jokes because of the deficient English knowledge and because I am not familiar with the British culture. Sometimes, I could not even understand the tasks because of the sophisticated verbal communication which is part of the British culture. Moreover, my prior dance experience also affected the helpfulness of verbal communication in general: I acquired my dance skill through social dancing and I never attended any formal dance courses and workshops, so I have developed a habit to listen/watch my and other’s bodies and learn through doing. As a result, during swing dance classes I just waited when instructor would stop talking and I could learn from others. In sum, the difficulty of learning via verbal communication was determined by former dance experience and partially by cultural differences which includes frequent humour and sophisticated language.

Conclusion

Lithuanian traditional dance and swing dance developed differently through the history.
However, both dance traditions ceased and were revived at the end of the 20th century. Nowadays, all races, body types, and ages of participants are acceptable in social dancing, and it has significant potential for meaningful employment. Meanwhile, professional dance ought to make further improvements in this field.

Nevertheless, swing dance is much more popular and its dance teaching is more developed than that of Lithuanian traditional dance. Dance improvisation is fundamental segment in swing dance, which developed together with jazz music. The improvisation analysis enables dancers to understand and embody complicated dance forms. However, dance learning as well as the coherent dance classification requires simplification of dance movements and variety.

With regards to the difficulties in the personal experience of dance learning, prior dance experience is the main factor which influences it. Social habitus is also influential and it can be noticed via inner resistance to adopt new social norms of the swing dance community. Difficult verbal communication aggravate learning process, however it depends on how people are used to learn – in my personal case, learning happens by direct observation, and verbal communication played a small role.

In sum, I have long experience with Lithuanian traditional dancing, which makes it more difficult to overcome prior knowledge while learning swing dance. Nevertheless, knowing one helps to learn the other, as both share many qualities: in terms of their history, improvisation style, and openness to diverse kinds of participants. Ultimately, both swing and Lithuanian traditional dance are types of social dances and both teach people couple dancing, which has become a relative rarity in the contemporary society.

 

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[1] Dancers without prior dance experience

[2] The different variations of Krakoviakas, Latisas, Aleksandra, Lelenderis, Valsas, Kadrilis dances are common in Eastern Europe region.

[3] These roles could be named also as ‘women’ and ‘men’, however, instructors usually avoid a sexism and maintained the ‘follows’ and ‘leads’ denominations.

[4] Puri and Hart-Johnson (1995)

Ethnographic research of Lithuanian diaspora folk group “Saduto”

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Užgavėnių šventė

‘Expert’ role and family members’ influence on ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ role

Anthropology helps to understand ‘other sociocultural systems and to understand ourselves better.’ (Keappler, 1999:14) and ethnography as a tool of this discipline enables scholars to collect their data for purposes of scientific inquiry. My ethnographic research focuses on family social status and ‘expert’ perception in the context of Lithuanian folk group “Saduto” community in London. The key study that forms the basis for the theoretical framework of this essay is Maria Koutsouba’s (1999) article “‘Outsider’ in an ‘Inside’ World, or Dance Ethnography at Home” where she analyses her ethnographic research through the ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ positions. In this essay, I will argue that the ‘expert’ role – teaching activity, group leading and playing with instruments in “Saduto” – made an undeniable influence to the group members by reinforcing the ‘outsider’ role, while my family members’ attendance in the field strengthened the group’s perception of me as an ‘insider’. Skaityti toliau