Performance Ethnography – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Dance Theory Glossary

I. What is Performance Ethnography?

Performance ethnography is a research method that combines the disciplines of performance studies and ethnography. It involves the study of human behavior and culture through the lens of performance, using live performances, rituals, and everyday practices as a means of understanding social phenomena. Performance ethnography seeks to capture the essence of a culture or community through the analysis of their performances, whether they be formal theatrical productions or informal social interactions.

II. How is Performance Ethnography used in Dance Theory?

In the realm of dance theory, performance ethnography plays a crucial role in understanding the cultural significance of dance practices. By observing and analyzing dance performances within their cultural context, researchers can gain insights into the values, beliefs, and social structures of a particular community. Performance ethnography allows for a deeper understanding of the meanings behind dance movements, costumes, and music, shedding light on the ways in which dance reflects and shapes cultural identities.

III. What are the key principles of Performance Ethnography?

There are several key principles that guide the practice of performance ethnography. These include:

1. Participant observation: Researchers immerse themselves in the culture they are studying, actively participating in performances and rituals to gain a firsthand understanding of the community’s practices.

2. Reflexivity: Researchers acknowledge their own biases and subjectivities, reflecting on how their own background and experiences may influence their interpretations of the data.

3. Collaboration: Performance ethnography often involves collaboration between researchers and community members, with the goal of co-creating knowledge that is meaningful and relevant to both parties.

4. Performance as research: Performance itself is seen as a form of research, with the act of performing or witnessing a performance serving as a means of generating knowledge and understanding.

IV. How does Performance Ethnography contribute to understanding dance practices?

Performance ethnography offers a unique perspective on dance practices by focusing on the lived experiences of dancers and the cultural contexts in which they perform. By studying dance performances as social and cultural phenomena, researchers can uncover the meanings and values embedded in dance movements, costumes, and music. Performance ethnography allows for a more holistic understanding of dance practices, moving beyond technical skills and aesthetics to explore the social, political, and historical dimensions of dance.

V. What are some examples of Performance Ethnography in dance research?

One example of performance ethnography in dance research is the work of anthropologist and choreographer Katherine Dunham. Dunham conducted extensive fieldwork in Haiti and Jamaica, studying the dance practices of Afro-Caribbean communities. Through her research, she developed a new dance technique that incorporated elements of African and Caribbean dance, revolutionizing the field of modern dance.

Another example is the work of dance scholar Brenda Farnell, who has used performance ethnography to study the dance practices of Indigenous communities in Canada. By immersing herself in the communities she studies and participating in their dance rituals, Farnell has gained a deep understanding of the cultural significance of dance for Indigenous peoples.

VI. How can dancers and researchers incorporate Performance Ethnography into their work?

Dancers and researchers can incorporate performance ethnography into their work by:

1. Engaging in participant observation: Dancers can immerse themselves in the communities they study, participating in dance performances and rituals to gain a firsthand understanding of the cultural context.

2. Collaborating with community members: Researchers can work closely with dancers and community members to co-create knowledge that is meaningful and relevant to the community.

3. Reflecting on their own biases: Dancers and researchers should be mindful of their own biases and subjectivities, reflecting on how their background and experiences may influence their interpretations of the data.

By incorporating performance ethnography into their work, dancers and researchers can gain a deeper understanding of dance practices and contribute to a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the cultural significance of dance.