Followers of Oxford Dance Writers who enjoyed Jane Connelly’s description of One Billion Rising  or Emily Coats’ account of her Swan Lake dance protest  will be fascinated by this book.

In Embodied politics: dance, protest and identities Stacey Prickett approaches her vast subject by means of four discrete but interlinked essays, in which she considers dance activism firstly in the US and then in Britain in the 1920s and 1930s, before turning to look at developments in the San Francisco Bay area around the turn of the 21st century and finally the South Asian dance movement in Britain. There is a logical chronological sequence to the work, but each of the four chapters has its own intrinsic structure and could be read independently.  Prickett uses the introduction and conclusion to draw together the threads that run through the work, identifying a political impetus that is bound up with the dancers’ sense of self, drawing parallels between protest themes in the US and Britain, and describing the way in which the personal experience of dancers from different cultures gives political meaning to their creative work.

A recurrent subject is the tension between dominant and subordinate groups and the ways in which this manifests itself both consciously and unconsciously in dance. Women play a prominent part in the story, unsurprisingly as the subordinate groups identified almost all contain, or consist of, women. In a particularly interesting comment in relation to the dance of the South Asian diaspora in Britain (p.145), Prickett notes the dominance of women in managerial, administrative and creative positions, and suggests that this challenges perceptions of patriarchal power. Perhaps this is an instance in which dance has actually changed the power relations in a section of society, but I fear that it may only be an example of the way in which women can make exceptional progress as pioneers in marginal areas before they become mainstream, at which point men take over. Prickett draws a contrast with the present situation in British ballet, but I should like to see whether women continue to take the lead in South Asian dance as it becomes an institutionalised part of British society.

The political analysis makes demanding reading (Prickett’s PhD was about Marxism and dance), but each chapter sets the historical scene clearly and accessibly. I greatly enjoyed the biographical accounts of artists such as Edith Segal and Margaret Barr, and the vividly evoked descriptions and analyses of performances, especially those in the San Francisco Bay area, some of which Prickett saw herself.

It is not light reading, but this carefully referenced and original book with its 13-page bibliography is an excellent starting point for anyone seeking to find out more about this developing area of dance scholarship.

Maggie Watson

20 July 2014

Pricket, S. 2013  Embodied politics: dance, protest and identities   Alton, Hampshire, Dance Books

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