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.
I have been wrestling with the meaning of one word related to my dance research for a while now. “Motivation”
There are many sources that describe motivation from a psychological perspective. But I don’t want to go there. Often when I speak about motivation, people tend to think about how one individual can motivate another. Certainly when I use the word as a # tag I seem to draw in plenty of commercial enterprises trying to flog motivational blogs, presentations, books and speeches. Again this is not what I am really wanting to look at.
A little closer to my interest is how dancers motivate themselves. Discussions I have had on social media would suggest that many dancers don’t think consciously about what motivates them. This is hardly surprising since most of us think about what we are doing a lot more than why we are doing it. So one little question could open up the whole point I am trying to make, when a dancer says they dance professionally because “it is their life”, “it makes them feel good”, or “it is in their being”; I ask myself why? They are motivated to feel this way and I would like to discover what various forms this takes.
About this time last year, a wonderful gentleman from The Australian Ballet named Colin Peasley welcomed me to the Sydney Opera House to watch the company behind the scenes. I spent three hours or so talking to him, and watching the dancers in class and rehearsal. And whilst I did not know it at the time, I was watching Darcey Bussell from the Royal Ballet conducting the class – more here. Twelve months on, it is time for me to take stock of what continues to motivate me to do research into professional ballet dancers. Since motivation is the theme of my study, it stands to reason that I should examine my own changing circumstances.
Guest post by Mike Barnes (“Anthropology En Pointe”)
Mike is an independent researcher who as a mature age student in Australia was awarded an honours degree in 2004 with a major in cultural anthropology. Mike has until recently been active teaching tutorial classes for “introductory anthropology”, “human evolution”, and “sociology”. In 2011, Mike started research with an interest in professional ballet dancers.
Several days ago saw the posting of the very first guest to write on this blog. He is Gregory Day a well known dancer in the Chicago area. He has a long career spanning ballet to ballroom; performance to competition and teaching. His post can be found here. Over the next several days, an article by a very well known anthropologist who specialises in many forms of dance will be posted. Watch this space. If at any time you wish to find all guest posts, click on “Contributions by guest posters” in the side bar. A big welcome and thank you to Gregory and all my future contributors.
A reader recently asked me how I developed my interest in ballet. It is not that I ever danced when I was younger, so why the sudden interest? The answer I gave him has reminded me how much I have missed out on by only now discovering the joy of dance. Last year, I took some absolute beginner ballet classes and really loved it. Unfortunately I have left it a bit late in life and my co-ordination is not up to taking my dancing seriously.
But that is not the end of my interest since my research will enable me to live vicariously through the dancing of others. Here is a version of how I answered the reader who I mentioned earlier.
My interest in ballet, is a fortunate amalgamation of two interests. I have been a subscriber to The Australian Ballet for a number of years and have seen every performance of theirs’ in this time. I have very much enjoyed it. However, it took on a far more interesting turn when I decided I could blend this interest with my other love, cultural anthropology. As a very mature age student, I received an honours degree in anthropology in 2004 and started tutoring undergrad courses in the subject. All this time I was looking for a cultural setting I could research for a postgrad degree. After a number of false starts looking at topics that led to little interest on my part, it occurred to me the middle of last year that I could study professional ballet dancers as a cultural group. I started doing a lot of reading and working through social networking groups and this blog and discovered that as a cultural grouping, professional dancers in general have not received the attention they deserve from ethnographic research. By this I mean, a great deal can be learned from spending an extended period of time observing and interacting with dancers in an extended fieldwork setting. With this in mind I have contacted local full time ballet companies and I am looking at others overseas.
Since this blog is about cultural anthropology as much as it is about dance, I thought readers may be interested in this video of my favourite lecturer talking about studying anthropology at a university Open Day. You won’t find any mention of dance, but you will hear Greg talking about what anthropologists do and why they do it. He also talks about some of the specialist areas that his department members research. It is my desire to use such an approach to research what motivates professional ballet dancers. As Greg says towards the end of the presentation:
“Anthropologists are the off-road vehicles of the social science world.” We take theory and try to see what is really happening out there, and not just on the eight-lane super highway of science or the safe parking lot of the psychology laboratory or the city grid of surveys in sociology.
I am still making slow progress with finding a company that will agree to me conducting fieldwork. I have received rejections from two ballet companies regarding fieldwork with them. I still have two more proposals outstanding with other companies but I am having trouble making contact with the persons who may be able to approve me spending four to six months with their company of dancers. So far I have only tried ballet companies in Australia and New Zealand. There are any number overseas that I could consider but they would need to be English speaking since the degree I am considering has no time available to learn another language. Do any of my readers have any thoughts on the matter? Is anyone willing to suggest this proposal to their company? If so, contact me and we will chat. Research overseas will cost a lot more in expenses, so if anyone is aware of any scholarships that may support such research I would be very interested.
UPDATE: Mike Barnes – Fieldwork Proposal document. This proposal mentions the first half of 2013, but it may have to slip to the second half at this late stage.
This video from “The Atlantic” shows a Pas de Deux from the visual perspective of the dancers. However, without experiencing other senses such as embodied movement, position in space, and the physical presence of the partner, etc, it is impossible for the viewer to substantially feel the dance. As a complete novice to dancing ballet (a few classes only), I find the video is jarring to my senses – as the introduction warns. It gives me no real feeling of what it is like to dance. I would expect the viewer’s sensual response to the video would depend significantly on their own experience of ballet dancing. It would be interesting to hear from professional and student dancers what they experience when they watch this video. Tell me how it makes you feel and what your level of dance experience is. Also, what do you think of the argument I have made?
I would like to extend an invitation to pre-professional ballet dancers to participate in discussions in this blog. Whilst the primary focus of my research is with professional dancers, the thoughts and aspirations of pre-professionals about to embark on their career are most welcome. There are already followers here from the professional and academic ranks, along with teachers and retired dancers. The voice of pre-professionals would provide the broadest perspective to the motivations of ballet dancers today.
So jump in and make a comment, test the water, it is warm and friendly here, just like the world of dance in general.