Carla Stalling Walter, PhD

From Street Lights to Stage Lights and Back - Dance in Geographic Space

Geographies of Dance: Bodies, Space & Movement, Volume 1 – Corporeal Negotiations and Volume 2 – Global Movements, chapter 9, volume 2. Olaf Kuhlke and Adam Pine, editors. New York: Lexington Books, The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, 2014

This is a chapter that I co-authored with Steve Smith, PhD and is in volume 2 of Geographies of Dance....

Mesmerized by dancers entranced; engaged in trance dance; called to death in swirls; viewing through the proscenium–dance has been the misunderstood discourse of the ages. Often surreptitiously watched by some, actively participated in by others, bodies in dance may animate even the most mundane spaces, such as hallways and neighborhoods – trading stage lights for streetlights – dances may be born and produced anywhere. In contrast, dance can be the subject that the distinguished scholar may interpret “unthickly” when observing in still other spaces, where dances were considered vile, debased, and uncultured, the moves of savages and otherwise unchristian folks. That is, until thoughts on dance once again shifted and it evolved into being considered a mechanism employed by the superstructure, as a controlled and surveilled infusion into the ordinary psyche of humanity.

Ironically dance may be viewed not as something that is choreographed as in formal dance, but an activity that choreographs places and diverse social interactions. There are multiple examples of dance being used in diplomatic relations, in setting the tone for societies and ritualization of state violence or passivity. Today, for example, rather than understanding what dance does, contentment with and the unmitigated sensationalized viewing of commoditized and competitive dance spectacles, devoid of social and political meanings, gives rise to a displacement of the places in which they are created and the contexts from which they arise. Importantly, such productions of dance are itself a form of our own reflection of ourselves to ourselves.

In this chapter the authors explore and expose the ways in which dance in geography has migrated to dance in cyberity, and the influences it has on men and women viewing it, on economy and policy. This is then contrasted with the meaning that dance holds in terms of identity politics, economic lives, and the relation these have with place and placelessness. Thus, the authors argue that the landscapes of the body and society are reflected in dance. Viewing both dance and place as subject productive elements of a curiously silent discourse, a marriage between dance theory and concepts of place seem an apt point of departure for considering how dance and space has informed social relations, as well as been informed by societies. Building on existential theoretical literature in both fields we show that the subject formative and productive aspects of dance are necessarily spatial thus inviting deeper empirical consideration about the interrelations between fields of dance aesthetics and human geography.