Performance, Politics, and Identity in African Dance Communities in the United States

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Title: Performance, Politics, and Identity in African Dance Communities in the United States
Author: Sandri, Sarah
Abstract: This thesis investigates the representation of African dance in the United States, particularly through African dance classes and public performances. It chronicles the motivations that catalyze participation for students and instructors and studies the effects of practice on Americans' understanding of Africa as an imagined place. My findings are based on ethnographic field research in community dance classes and dance troupes in Eugene, Oregon and southern New Hampshire and Vermont from 2009-2012. The project details dance practices produced for the stage in West Africa that are reinterpreted and re-produced in American dance class settings and then subsequently retranslated for the stage by Americans. It illustrates how West African griot culture, economic realities, and audience demand influence transnational dance instruction and suggests alternative ways of understanding concepts of representation, agency, and authorship. Further, it explores how American dance students apply narratives about African dance they learn in class to forge new communities that provide fulfillment absent in their daily lives. Ultimately, the thesis demonstrates how intersections between personal and social histories and performance and performativity in African dance communities in the United States can both reaffirm and disrupt official discourses about race, ethnicity, and artistic expression.
Date: 2012

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