Dance Fields is an important collection of papers, arising from a 2017 conference convened by the Centre for Dance Research (Coventry University), the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Dance  (De Montfort University) and the Centre for Dance Research (University of Roehampton).  The conference celebrated the coming of age of Dance Studies within the ‘academy’ and is evidence of the breadth, depth, and originality of research on dance in UK universities.  Stephanie Jordan’s Opening Panel Paper notes the vast range of dance scholarship, embracing areas as diverse as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, dance science, and of course the dance itself; its choreography and practice.  This collection, through its scope and varied styles of presentation, with examples of interaction between ‘traditional’ and practitioner modes of scholarship, demonstrates the intellectual extent and value of Dance Studies as a discipline in its own right.

Although Michael Huxley’s paper ‘Dance Studies in the UK 1974-1984’ rejects the notion of a ‘beginning’, Dance is a relative newcomer to academia in the UK, and Dance’s aspect as an embodied art form compels its scholars to cross boundaries and move beyond the university.  Examples within this volume that bear out Huxley’s claim for the influence of dance research conducted outside the academy on research carried out within it include Sally Doughty and Pete Shenton’s ‘This is… where we are now’, and Carol Brown, Ruth Gibson and Jenny Roche’s ‘Towards a Deterritorialised Field of Dance’.  The former paper integrates writing and practice by weaving together words and images, while the latter presents a ‘field study’ that uses technology to investigate embodied communication in real and virtual spaces.

There are papers on the study of teaching and dancer development that take us from Scotland to Brazil, and explorations of methodologies drawn from outside the field of Dance, such as Ruth Pethybridge’s theorisation of community dance as political discourse ‘From Direct Action to Being There’.  Christy Adair and Laura Griffiths write about the revival, or reconstruction, of historic dance repertoire in new settings, taking the example of Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Nightlife at the Flamingo, and discuss themes that include legacy and embodied memory.  In the final two papers, Susanne Foellmer examines the concept of the archive in dance as a performative situation, and Helena Hammond considers the position of dance history in the context of cultural studies and phenomenology.

It is heartbreaking that the optimism about the future of Dance Studies in 2017, which this volume embodies, has since been ripped apart.  The desperate plight of the performing arts in the pandemic was quickly visible and widely acknowledged; the threat to academic dance departments was not immediately so apparent.  It is shameful that Roehampton, the University that hosted this outstanding Conference, now seeks to cut up to forty staff posts across its Schools of Arts and Humanities.  This volume, dedicated to the memory of Andrée Grau, demonstrates the vital scholarly national and international role of the Roehampton Department of Dance and Centre for Dance Research.

Maggie Watson

15th November 2020

Ann R. David, Michael Huxley and Sarah Whatley. edit. (2020)  Dance Fields: Staking a Claim for Dance Studies in the Twenty-First Century Dance Books, 2020.

You can purchase this book from Dance Books here