Dance Data, Embodied Knowledge, and Historical Inquiry: Reflections from Dunham's Data

When and Where

Wednesday, March 09, 2022 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm
on Zoom


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 talk 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. Learn more about Dunham Dance Data here.  

Kate Elswit is a scholar–artist whose research on performing bodies combines dance history, performance theory, cultural studies, medical humanities, experimental practice, and technology. She is the author of Watching Weimar Dance (2014), winner of the Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research and honorable mention for the Callaway Prize, and of Theatre & Dance (2018). Her current research includes a monograph on the intersections of breath, performance, and measurement from the Victorian era to the present, as well as the digital humanities project Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry, in collaboration with Harmony Bench, which is funded by a three-year project grant from the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council and won the ATHE-ASTR Award for Excellence in Digital Scholarship. She received her PhD from the University of Cambridge, and is now Reader in Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London.   

Harmony Bench ( is Associate Professor in the Department of Dance at The Ohio State University. Her research addresses practices, performances, and circulations of dance in the contexts of digital and screen media. She is author of Perpetual Motion: Dance, Digital Cultures, and the Common with University of Minnesota Press in 2020, and is at work on a new book on affect and kinesthesia in screendance spectatorship. From 2014-2019, she was co-editor of The International Journal of Screendance with Simon Ellis, and in 2021, she guest-edited the special issue This Is Where We Dance Now: COVID-19 and the New and Next in Dance Onscreen with Alexandra Harlig. For several years, Harmony has collaborated with Kate Elswit on bringing the digital humanities and dance history into greater dialogue, most recently with Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry (Ref: AH/R012989/1;

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