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Toward a Dance History Dataset that Comes from the Studio

As the first strand of this project, Harmony, Kate, and Tia-Monique have been working in partnership with the Institute for Dunham Technique Certification (IDTC), and our three community facilitators: Penny Godboldo, Rachel Tavernier, and Patricia Wilson. This arises from discussions we had around similarities and differences between the Dunham’s Data view of Katherine Dunham’s repertory in terms of how it was archived in mid-century programs versus how such dance history is encountered in an ongoing way through the physical practice of dance technique.

Inspired by writing around equitable participatory design for datasets (Piper, Erete, and Harrington, 2019), our collaborative research explores how dance-based knowledge is stored and transmitted—from body to body in a studio setting, rather than housed in formal archives. We are creating a dataset to collect and build connections between personal accounts of experiences with learning Dunham Technique. Through this process, we are interested in how individual stories can be brought together as a way of representing Katherine Dunham’s widespread and dynamic legacy across communities and generations of dancers.

Something that feels really important in our conversations is how IDTC is beginning to certify dancers who never had the opportunity to learn from Dunham’s original company members, and who have also never lived some of the variations and changes in technique over time. And so we are curious how a dataset might become a wayfinder to see across many individual experiences, knowledge, and memories at once. At the same time, this experimental dataset is a proof of concept; it is a sketch that is meant to represent only a small slice of the knowledge that is transmitted through Dunham Technique, but we are interested in what dance history might look like when gathered in this way.

Data collection will begin at the 2022 Dunham Teacher Certification Workshop and continue with an online survey to reach more members of the Dunham community. Please reach out if you’d like to be involved!

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