Author Archives: clareparfitt

Dance as ‘care of the self’ in the academy

At the ‘PoP Moves Seedbed: Dancing Methodologies’ symposium on Saturday I had a 90-minute curated conversation with Kélina Gotman (Kings College London) about historical methodologies in popular dance research.  Our conversation ranged across the materiality of archival documents, the partiality of ‘the archive’, expertise (always to question it) and the fictional characteristics of historical writing. We talked about the deep, overarching, often personal questions that drive our research across projects and down rabbit holes. Our astute audience, made up of undergraduates, postgraduate students and academics, challenged us on what happens when these long-term questions that shape our academic careers encounter the shorter-term realities of deadlines and pressure to submit the article/present the paper/perform the work/finish the book. This brought to my mind Danielle Goldman’s excellent book I Want to be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom (2010). Goldman frames dance improvisation as a way of moving in the ‘tight places’ produced in particular times and spaces by constraints of race, class, gender, sexuality, time and artistic conventions. Improvisation, she argues, can become what Michel Foucault (1997) calls a ‘practice of freedom’ in these constrained contexts; that is, a quotidian act that allows an individual to redefine themselves and their relationships to others without necessarily overturning the whole regime in which they are embedded. I wondered, how can we, as dance scholars, negotiate and improvise between the questions that drive us and the goals, challenges and obstacles that define the ‘tight place’ of contemporary academic life: teaching schedules, curricula, publication deadlines, the academic book market, publishers’ commercial agendas, funding criteria, research outcomes, impact, the REF, promotion, tenure…? Not to mention the constraints of personal life: relationships, parenthood, other caring roles, health…. As (popular) dance scholars, what models, practices and techniques can our subject offer that might help us to survive and flourish in these tight places? Could we, for example, in our working days, institutions and scholarly relationships:

  • give attention to the balance and relationship between choreography and improvisation as working modes?
  • focus on the weight, pressure, momentum, tension and centre of mass in our contact with others?
  • experiment with the effect of deliberate changes of speed on different types of activities, and in particular, the personal and political potential of the slow?
  • negotiate a path around the ‘ballroom’ that respects the spaces of others while carving out our own space to move?

What I am suggesting, I think, is the potential of dance as a model for ‘care of the self’ (Foucault, 1997, p. 291) in the academy. I write this amid today’s demands of childcare, shopping, writing pressures and home maintenance (it is a bank holiday). The music slows. Stillness. Writing. The music quickens…

Clare Parfitt-Brown


Dancing (trans)national memories symposium

Photography by Simon Brown

Photography by Simon Brown

On Saturday 20th June 2015, the first symposium for the Dancing with Memory project, titled ‘Dancing (trans)national memories’, took place at Senate House, University of London, supported by PoP MOVES. Dancing with Memory is an AHRC-funded project to investigate the relationship between popular dance and cultural memory, led by Dr. Clare Parfitt-Brown at the University of Chichester. The symposium offered papers presented by Dr. Cecilia Sosa (University of East London), Dr. Danielle Robinson (York University, Toronto) and an image-based discussion led by Dr. Clare Parfitt-Brown. The event attracted delegates from a wide range of disciplines, including dance studies, popular dance studies, cultural memory studies and history of art. The event raised a host of provocative questions, including:

  • What are the differences/relationships between embodied and mediated modes of memory transmission? How is the transmission of affect involved in each? (these questions will be revisited in the next Dancing with Memory symposium, ‘Muse of Modernity? Remembering, Mediating and Modernising Popular Dance’)
  • How does popular dance facilitate the transmission of memory across generations or national boundaries? (the engagement of popular dance studies with Marianne Hirsch’s notion of ‘post-memory’ may be useful here)
  • What are the roles of popular dance forms in negotiating the vexed questions of ownership of particular cultural memories? (e.g. the memories of ‘the Disappeared’ [Sosa] and the memories of samba de roda [Robinson])
  • What are the effects of the overt gendering of particular cultural memories?

In the plenary discussion, Cecilia raised the question of what popular dance mobilises as a method for cultural memory studies. Indeed, popular dance often seems to embody those aspects of cultural memory that are mobile, fluid, unfixable. It seems to be precisely this endless mobility of memory that popular dance exposes. The symposium also highlighted the possibilities of cultural memory approaches for popular dance studies, a sub-discipline often focused on the current at the expense of the ways the popular past informs the present. Cultural memory may augment the methodologies popular dance scholars already use for exploring the ghosts of past dances in present dancing bodies, such as intertextuality, parody and heterocorporealities (Hall, 2009). The Dancing with Memory project is exploring such synergies between popular dance and cultural memory, in the hope of opening up new questions, methodologies and collaborative potentials for both disciplines.