Roundtable at the Dance Fields conference, University of Roehampton, 21st April 2017

Ten years ago in 2007, Dr. Sherril Dodds organised the Symposium on Popular Dance and Music at University of Surrey, which was the first popular dance conference in the UK. It seeded a network of popular dance researchers that evolved into the PoP MOVES organisation, which now has committees in the UK and North America, as well as international members. During this time, popular dance studies has gained greater visibility and traction both in UK Higher Education and in dance research within and beyond the UK. The roundtable, recorded in the video below, was organised by current members of the PoP Moves committee. It drew from the conference theme ‘where are we now?’ to reflect on the situation of popular dance and popular dance studies within the UK landscape, and to discuss the direction of the field for the next ten years.

We began by considering the progress we’ve made in the last decade in integrating popular dance into the academy. We then turned our attention to some of the ‘sticking points’ we’ve reached in this integration, both in teaching and in research. These ‘sticking points’ seem to occur where popular dance begins to challenge entrenched value systems, and these obviously vary between individuals and institutions. In some universities, for example, popular dance may be acceptable as a module bracketed off from the rest of the curriculum, but not as an integral part of the overall philosophy, values and training systems of the department. At this point it may become framed as a ‘threat’ to technique teachers’ jobs, to student employability, to departmental reputation, etc. Equally, in research, popular dance may be considered acceptable as long as it obviously promotes the liberal values of the academy, i.e. cultural diversity, feminism, a certain ill-defined ‘authenticity’ associated with the ‘other’. But as soon as there appears to be any kind of collusion with commercialism or (hetero)sexualisation of women, for example, then popular dance may become a threat.

In discussing these sticking points, we aimed to bring the politics of disciplinary gatekeeping into the foreground, as a way to open up dialogues around these issues and explore potential ways forward. Members of the PoP Moves committee led each section of the discussion with examples and thoughts from their own experience.