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Mapping Movement on the Move, Ten Years On

In November, we were invited to the Newberry Library in Chicago to give a talk for the 21st Kenneth Nebenzahl, Jr., Lectures in the History of Cartography. The event theme was “Mapping as Performance” and we took the opportunity to consider how our theory of the map has changed over the past ten years of our collaborative research. We thought about our evolution from asking what mapping can bring to understanding dance’s histories, to asking how the nature of dance’s expertise in moving bodies might challenge what and how maps represent. 

In 2013, we began collaborating towards the proposition that digital methods, and digital mapping in particular, were well-suited to analyze how movement moves across time, space, and bodies. Our initial research was situated in the context of touring dance companies. We wanted to trace “dynamic spatial histories of movement,” which we did “on the map”  with the aim of exploring dance’s transnational entanglements at scale. In the second phase, Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry, we began to ask what kinds of data we needed to consider circulation and transmission in a manner that felt meaningful for dance history. In the process, our mapping evolved conceptually toward tracing the interconnections of historical performance across performers, locations, and repertory. In this newest phase, Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments: Dance-Based Approaches to Data, we continue this trajectory of asking how to further center dance in this work, and how that changes things in the project of tracing and visualizing movement (and movement’s traces). 

One comparison that struck us in reflecting back was these two images, from 2015 and 2022 respectively. In the dependency tripartite graph on the right from Dunham’s Data, we represent the multidirectional relationships between choreographer Katherine Dunham’s travels (left column), with the places that inspired her repertory (middle column), and the passports that her dancers, drummers, and singers carried (right column). The interactive map on the left, from Kate’s early project Moving Bodies, Moving Culture used the sequential layering of vectors to represent the ways that touring artists made references to other places as they went along. So you can see between these two images how much our thinking and visual practices have evolved in representing the way connections between place are mediated by dance-based knowledge practices, and how to make visible those negotiations that are indexed by place but not anchored to it.

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