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Guest post by Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D.

Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D. is affiliated with the University of Maryland. Hanna’s doctorate in anthropology at Columbia University focused on dance. She has been a dance critic and written many books and articles on dance published in numerous countries where she has given guest lectures and courses.  See www.judithhanna.com for more information.

I am excited to have just learned that in December, Rowman & Littlefield will publish my new book, Dancing to Learn: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement and so I’m sharing the news with you.

This book evolved because I believe everyone can benefit from a new paradigm of dance for young and old alike that is grounded in the new brain sciences and integrated with knowledge in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Dancing to Learn explains that dance is nonverbal language with similar places and education processes in the brain as verbal language, thus a powerful means of expression.  Dance is physical exercise that sparks new brain cells (neurogenesis) and neural plasticity, the brain’s amazing ability to change throughout life—I’m dancingflamenco, belly dance, jazz, and salsa!).  Moreover, dance is a means to help us cope with stress that can motivate or interfere with learning. We acquire knowledge and develop cognitively because dance bulks up the brain and, consequently, dance as an art, recreational, educational, and or therapeutic form is a good investment in the brain. The “brain that dances” is changed by it.

You may read the description, reviews, and contents here Judith Hanna Dancing to Learn Book Release

Here is an interesting look into the long day of a ballet dancer at The Australian Ballet (@TheAusBallet). Their love of dancing and performing is clearly behind their motivation. However, how does this “love” feel in the mind and bodies of the dancer?

 

 

Sensory Anthropology Meets Neuroanthropology.

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,300 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Over on LinkedIn I asked the question “Are there differences between different forms of dance which influence dancer’s drive to professional status?” Specifically,

This is a rather broad question. I believe all professional dancers have put in the hard work required to get to professional status otherwise they would not be there. But are there differences that help guide outcomes to direct dancers to one form or another. It seems with only a few exceptions, most dancers start at a young age and usually in ballet class. What do you think attracts only some to become professional classical ballet dancers and many others to branch into other forms of dance (contemporary, modern, music theatre, aerial, just to name a few)? Does opportunity play a large part, or are there many other factors?

I would like to say I have enjoyed the spirited conversation that the question provoked. The responses open up many dimensions of the original question that I posed.

If you want to join in the conversation please feel free.

Guest post by Susan R. Lin

Susan Lin is a dancer in the San Francisco Bay Area who is writing a series of posts of her own experiences, and interviews she has had with professional ballet dancers. She is the author of Dancing With Joy in which she shares her experience of dance. Her blogs (she has several), articulate how she is “Discovering the wonders of life through a corporate career, dance, and music, [and she] is incorrigibly curious about how it all fits together from the lens of culture, communications, and interpersonal interactions.”  Dance plays a large part in her life, she says: “My first love is classical ballet, but Chinese classical and ethnic dance is where my performing heart lies.” 

Although there is a particular “look” of a classical dancer – slim body, long neck, legs, and arms, arched feet and open hips – what is a dancer but a human being, and each of us is unique. It may not be immediately evident in a line of corps dancers in a traditional classical ballet company’s production of Swan Lake, but if you look closely enough or watch each of those dancers in class or rehearsal I guarantee you will see distinct qualities not only in their bodies, but in their approach to movement. In other ensembles, the variety of physicality is a key element to the aesthetic.

Given the unique qualities of body and movement, how does a dancer find the right place for his or her career? I took a quick dive to explore this through live interviews with several professional ballet dancers of varying backgrounds, supplemented by online videos and my own experience. While it is not an empirical study by any means, it has given me precious insight into one of the key factors that makes or breaks a dancer’s motivation to carry on.

What I came away with is that the journey of finding one’s own place is ultimately less about fitting in to a particular company or style; it is about trying on different “skins” – whether artistically and culturally – and asking oneself the difficult question of whether the current job is right.

In the stories these dancers shared with me, I heard the following thematic questions emerge: What is my own skin: my internal artistic style and personality? Where can I be in my own skin and still have a fulfilling, ever-growing, and collaborative experience?

I’ll share these stories with you in a multi-part series, since each dancer is an instrument and vehicle not only for an artistic director or choreographer’s vision, but for his or her own self-actualization. I believe they deserve to be heard one at a time, to further convey the sense of individuality.

Junna Ige – Finding Home
In her fifth season dancing with Ballet San Jose, this bright-eyed dancer is pint-sized but dances with an expansiveness that makes her limbs appear miles long. “There are very limited opportunities for the serious ballet student in Japan,” she laments, and in her mid-teens Ige left for northern Germany to further her studies.

Susan Lin Fitting In Junna IgeWhile she consistently received top marks at the academy, when it came time to find a job she came out empty handed time and time again. After a huge effort auditioning in some eight countries in Europe, Ige headed back to Japan – the worst possible outcome for her – dejected and lost.

In Japan, Ige taught ballet to little girls, and worked at Starbucks. “Why was I even doing this?” she asked herself, referring not only to her predicament, but to all her years training in the hopes of becoming a professional, classical ballet dancer. She was told over and over again at auditions that the reason there was no contract for her was: “You’re too short.”

Somehow, despite the heartbreak of so much rejection – not to mention money spent traveling for auditions – Ige decided to give herself and ballet one more chance. She flew to North America and auditioned for several companies. “I’d never been to America. I thought, maybe they would see things differently.”

At Ballet San Jose, she was encouraged upon seeing dancers of different sizes and heights. When then artistic director Dennis Nahat told her that he saw artists and not just bodies, she felt hope. When she was offered an apprentice contract four years ago, she took it and never looked back.

“Now I feel like I can be myself,” Ige smiles, and her voice cannot hide her joy. “I realized I’d spent so long wanting to be something I wasn’t. I wanted not to be short. I wanted to be tall, to be something else. But I’m not; I’m me. And at Ballet San Jose, I was hired because I’m me!”

This fortunate circumstance has allowed Ige to gain confidence as a person and as a dancer, and it has paid off: she was promoted towards the end of the last season and is now a soloist with the company.

And, this year she carried the tremendous pressure and privilege of dancing the lead character of Kitri in Wes Chapman’s production of Don Quixote on opening night, partnered by no less than international superstar José Manuel Carreño. She pulled the full-length ballet off with determination, sass, and showed us glimpses of pure abandon.

“I love it. Why? It’s the dance,” she says in her lightly accented English. Her eyes sparkle, and she doesn’t need to say any more. She’s found her home.

A friend at Macquarie University is running an introduction to human evolution course online as a MOOC. It runs for four weeks starting tomorrow and is called ” Becoming Human: Anthropology (BeHuman)” (link). Dancers may find this course of interest as it takes a look at how we “evolved from primates and became human.” I was a tutor for an extended on-campus version of this course several years ago and can highly recommend this online version to anyone with limited time available. MOOC courses are free and prerequisites not usually required.

UPDATE: Please note that if you missed it, this course is running multiple times, the next 27/05/2013 to 23/06/2013.

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