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Visceral Data for Dance Histories: Katherine Dunham’s People, Places, and Pieces, 1947-60

Elswit, Kate and Bench, Harmony (2021) Visceral Data for Dance Histories: Katherine Dunham’s People, Places, and Pieces, 1947-60. TDR/The Drama Review. (In Press)

Abstract

Between 1947-60, choreographer Katherine Dunham spent over 5000 days in hundreds of cities on six continents. During that time, almost 200 dancers, drummers, and singers travelled with her, performing over 200 repertory pieces. This essay engages with Dunham as a case study to explore the questions and problems that make data analysis and visualization meaningful for dance historical inquiry. Using a granular approach, we build datasets that elaborate the historical contours of the Dunham company as a porous and dynamic movement community as it traveled extensively through the world. Through this historical dance data, we sketch possible lines of transmission for embodied knowledge, and consider how repertory itself further circulated that knowledge. Dunham’s expansive work lends itself to digital approaches that illuminate the complex ways history is iterated across bodies, and how the specific questions raised by dance history underpin a visceral approach to the digital humanities.

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