The Study of Dance

This course provides an introduction to the study of dance, one of the central motivations for the production of music. The course begins with a survey of the study of Western dance (choreology) followed by an examination of the study of the ethnic dances and folk dances in other parts of the world (ethnochoreology).

The role of Critical Theory, Semiotics and Cultural Studies in the formulation of frameworks will be illuminated so students will have a variety of critical viewpoints to develop their own perspectives. Students will discover why dance is a contested discourse in public representations and university Schools of Music. Ballet and modern dance will be placed in the context of popular, folk, and world dance. Following the study of Western expressions of dance in Western European High Art, from historical roots to modern manifestations, we will look at the current state of popular dance, on the dance floor and the ballrooms. At each step, the study of the various dance expressions will be mirrored in the parallel expressions of music.

After reviewing mainstream dance, we will examine three dance cultures in detail. First Nations Kwakiutl and Pan-Indian Powwow will illustrate how straightforward choreographies in unison with drumming are set against complex music structures. South Asian bharata natyam will be examined to illustrate its position as a highly sophisticated mimetic and rhythmic complexity that equals anything in the West.  Finally, English and North American social country dance and display morris dance are set against the backdrop of cultural identity and polysemic narratives.


Learning About Dance: Dance as an Art Form and Entertainment (2010) by Nora Ambrosio (Kendall/Hunt Pub., sixth edition).

Lecture Schedule and Readings

Week 1 Class-room introductions and expectations: “To dance is human”

Ehrenreich, Barbara (2006) Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Morris, Neil (2001) Music and Dance: The Discovering World Music Series for Children

Jonas, Gerald (1992)  Dancing: The Pleasure, Power, and Art of Movement (book and eight videos)

Week 2 The theory and practice of choreology

Fraleigh, Sondra and Penelope Hanstein, editors (1999) Researching Dance: Evolving Modes of Inquiry

Adshead-Lansdale, Janet (1994)  Dance History: an introduction

Hanna, Judith (1979) To Dance is Human: A Theory of Non-verbal Communication

Week 3 The anthropology of dance: ethnochoreology

Williams, Drid (2004)  Anthropology and the Dance: Ten Lectures

Buckland, Theresa, editor (1999) Dance in the Field: Theory, Methods and Issues in Dance Ethnography

Spencer, Paul (1985)  Society and the Dance: The Social Anthropology of Process and Performance

Royce, Anya (1980)  The Anthropology of Dance

Sachs, Curt (1937) World History of Dance (1933, translated by Bessie Schonberg)  

Week 4 The sociology of dance: cultural studies and critical theory  

Shay, Anthony (2006) Choreographing Identities: Folk Dance, Ethnicity and Festival in the United States and Canada

Thomas, Helen (2003) The Body, Dance and Cultural Theory 

Desmond, Jane, editor (1997) Meaning and Motion: New Cultural Studies of Dance

Hanna, Judith (1988) Dance, Sex and Gender: signs of identity, dominance and desire

Week 5 Dance notation systems

Guest, Ann Hutchinson (2005)  Labanotation: The System of Analyzing and Recording Movement

Guest, Ann Hutchinson (1989)  Choreo-graphics : a comparison of dance notation systems from the fifteenth century to the present

Week 6 Renaissance and Baroque Dance

Little, Meredith and Natalie Jenne (2005) Dance and the Music of J.S. Bach 

Arbeau, Thoinot (1581)  Orchesography (1968, translated by Cyril W. Beaumont)

Week 7 Ballet from the Romantic Age

Smith, Marian (2000) Ballet and Opera in the Age of Giselle

Foster, Susan (1996) Choreography and Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire  

Week 8 Ballet for the People – Ballroom Dance

Picart, Caroline Joan (2006)  From Ballroom To Dancesport: Aesthetics, Athletics, And Body Culture

Malnig, Julie (1992) Dancing Till Dawn: A Century of Exhibition Ballroom Dance    

Week 9 Hip Hop

Huntingdon, Carla (2007) Hip Hop Dance: Meanings and Messages

Schloss, Joseph (2009) Foundation: B-Boys, B-Girls, and Hip-Hop Culture in New York

Week 10 Canadian First Nations Dance   

Murphy, Jacqueline Shea (2000) “Lessons in Dance History: Aboriginal Land Claims and Aboriginal Dance, circa 1999,” in Dancing Bodies, Living Histories, edited by Lisa Doolittle and Anne Flynn. pp. 130-69

Aldred, Lisa (2005) “Dancing with Indians and Wolves: New Agers Tripping through Powwows,” in Powwow, edited by Clyde Ellis et al, pp. 258-74

Boas, Franz (1944/1972) “Dance and Music in the Life of the Northwest Coast Indians of North America (Kwakiutl),” in, The Function of Dance in Human Society, edited by Franziska  Boas, pp. 5-20

Browner, Tara (2004) Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-wow.                 

Week 11 Display dance in India: Bharata Natyam and Kathak    

Chakravorty, Pallabi (2007) Bells of Change: Kathak Dance, Women and Modernity in India

Gaston, Anne-Marie (2003) Bharata Natyam from Temple to Theatre

Week 12 English country dance – history and departures

Dart, Mary McNab (1995)   Contra Dance Choreography: A Reflection of Social Change

Keller, Kate Van Winkle (1994) The Playford Ball: 103 Early English Country Dances

Manuel, Peter (2009) Creolizing Contradance in the Caribbean

Week 13 English morris dance – polysemy and hegemony

Barrand, Anthony (2005) Six Fools and a Dancer: The Timeless Way of the Morris

Boyes, Georgina (1993) The Imagined Village: Culture, Ideology and the English Folk Revival

Sponsler, Clair (1997) “Writing the Unwritten: Morris Dance and the Study of Medieval Theatre,” in Theatre Survey, volume 38, number 1, pp. 73-96


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