Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

General Course Description

This course explores the forms, contents, and context of world traditions in dance that played a crucial role in shaping American concert dance. For example, we will identify dances from an African American vernacular tradition that were transferred from the social space to the concert stage. We will explore the artistic lives of such American dance artists as Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, and Alvin Ailey along with Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, George Balanchine, and Merce Cunningham as American dance innovators. Of particular importance to our investigation will be the construction of gender and autobiography that lie at the heart of concert dance practice, and the ways in which these qualities have been choreographed by American artists.

We will first look at the roots of classical ballet and its American presence via visiting ballerinas such as Fanny Essler and Marie Taglioni. From this we will trace a rise in performance venues; the Puritan resistance to dance as ‘immoral;’ and the breaking of tradition which allowed Isadora Duncan, Loie Fuller, and Ruth St. Denis to create a space for concert dance that was not ballet. We will unearth the streak of feminist independence which is at the root of modern dance practice. Martha Graham, Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Agnes de Mille fit directly into this lineage as first-generation modern dance artists. Class lectures and discussions will analyze works created by these artists, taking into consideration a variety of historical and political contexts which gave rise to their inventions. Frequent viewing assignments will help students identify visual, musical, and kinesthetic underpinnings of choreographic structure.

The requirements for this subject conform to the mechanical requirements for all HASS-D’s and CI-H: There will be no fewer than three writing assignments that will add up to a minimum of 20 pages; one of these papers will be rewritten; and no less than one hour per week will be devoted to discussion.

Readings and Materials

The required course texts are:

Jonas, Gerald. Dancing. New York, NY: Harry Abrams, 1998. ISBN: 9780810927919.

Needham, Maureen. I See America Dancing: Selected Readings, 1685-2000. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780252026935.

Required Performances on the MIT Campus

  • Brenda Dixon Gottschild and Helmut Gottschild, “Tongue, Smell, Color”, Broad Institute Auditorium.
  • Amanda Loulaki “Delerium, or, That Taste in My Mouth”, Kresge Little Theater.

Required Performance Off Campus

Attendance at one concert dance performance off campus, to be determined. Possible performances to include:

  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Wang Center.
  • Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, “Chapel/Chapter”, Institute for Contemporary Art.

Class Requirements

  1. Approximately 50 pages of reading and 2 hour of viewing weekly. Participation in class discussions will account for 5% of the final grade.
  2. We will attend at least two performances of dance concerts in the Boston area or on the MIT campus. Each student will submit a 2 page response to each of these performances. Each response will be worth 2.5% of the final grade.
  3. Three short papers, of 7-10 pages length, on the topics described below in response to a video viewing of American concert work to be determined by the instructor. All viewing assignments will be available at the Music Library, some will be available in our private course locker. Short papers account for 75% of the final grade (25% each):
    • Paper One - Religion and Social Order
    • Paper Two - Cultural Mores
    • Paper Three - Gender and Individual Identity
  4. Rewrite assignment. One of the short papers will be revised and resubmitted.
  5. A Web-research assignment leading to an oral presentation, defining a work of American concert dance as classical art. The oral presentation assignment will account for 15% of the final grade.

Course Organization:

The course will be divided into seven major units, as follows:

Unit 1 — Introduction and overview (2 sessions)

Unit 2 — Dance as an expression of religious worship (3 sessions)

Unit 3 — Dance as an expression of social order and power (4 sessions)

Unit 4 — Dance as an expression of cultural mores (4 sessions)

Unit 5 — Dance as the autobiographical creation of individual artists (4 sessions)

Unit 6 — Dance as a classical art (5 sessions)

Unit 7 — Dance as an emblem of cultural identity and fusion (3 sessions)

Wrap-up and review (1 session)

Note from the Writing Center

The Writing and Communication Center offers you free professional advice from published writers about oral presentations and about all types of academic, creative, and professional writing. To schedule an appointment, go to MIT Online Writing and Communication Center and click on the yellow sunburst. If you cannot find an open appointment slot, do not despair. There are always cancellations on the day of the appointment (sometimes as many as 15 cancellations in one day). Click on the Wait List (the blue strip that says “Is the time that you want already reserved?”). Whenever a cancellation occurs on that day, you will be automatically notified by email. Because several people might receive that same message, go online ASAP to schedule that open spot; 96% of clients who want an appointment end up with one if they use the Wait List. If you can’t find an appointment, you try dropping in or try the Online Tutor.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples
Presentation Assignments