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Studies in Dance takes a broad, interdisciplinary approach to dance scholarship while serving as an ongoing forum for discussion by established and younger scholars.  The Seminar embraces all forms of dance scholarship, regardless of discipline, research area, and methodology, and has the long-term goal of encouraging academic publication and new research.  The members include Barnard College and Columbia University faculty as well as independent scholars and faculty from other New York institutions, although speakers may come from outside the metropolitan area.

Lynn Garafola

Juliana Ariel DeVaan

Emily Hawk

Meeting Schedule

10/23/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Ukrainian Ballet Librettos
Ania Nikulina, Binghamton University


Ballet librettos are vital in understanding early Soviet cultural policies, as classical ballet became central as a tool of imperial propaganda and national resistance. In the context of Soviet Ukraine, the libretto became a method to present and rationalize Soviet policies on Ukrainian nationality and to control ballet’s official and indirect messages during the initial stages of production. This paper analyzes Ukrainian ballet librettos of the 1930s, exploring how they defined a cultural connection between the old Imperial and new Soviet ballet while extracting the cultural image of a Ukrainian nation and the significance of the Ukrainian dancing body. I offer a reading of librettos as archival and performative documents with narratives that openly and metaphorically highlight Ukraine and its communities as targets of imperial aggression. I trace these narratives in major nation-themed librettos and show that together they have come to shape both the ballet archive and repertoire. Serving both state and public, these archives were especially significant, functioning as a platform for both conformity and resistance.

11/20/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Ballet for the Masses
Laura Quinton, Harvard University


This chapter from my forthcoming book explores how the Arts Council of Great Britain invested in dance immediately after the Second World War.

12/11/2023 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
I Saw That They Were Hiring': Casting and Recasting A Chorus Line
Ryan Donovan, Duke University


A Chorus Line cemented the changed role of the dance ensemble in Broadway musicals and had profound impacts not just on the creation and dramaturgy of musicals but also on their economics and their aesthetics, all of which came to bear on casting and the rise of the triple-threat performer as the new paradigm for Broadway performers. This chapter opens by historicizing the shifts from separate choruses of singers and dancers to ensembles full of triple-threats. It then details A Chorus Line’s origins and its treatment of identity. The show broke new ground in terms of representation since its text emerged from the dancers’ life stories. These life stories eventually had to be recast in other performers’ bodies, though. Much ink has been spilled on the show’s genesis and development in the first workshop process, but there has been less focus on keeping A Chorus Line going from 1975 to 1990 on Broadway and since then—and what this meant for Broadway writ large. Finally, this chapter argues that while A Chorus Line’s success was a love letter to Broadway dancers, it came with a cost: the musical that was supposed to individuate dancers ended up making them even more interchangeable than before.

01/29/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
“Tap and Women, Then and Now” / Ayodele Casel in Conversation With Margo Jefferson
Ayodele Casel, Dancer, choreographer

Margo Jefferson, Columbia University

02/26/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
“Multiple Modernisms: Adolph Bolm and the Chicago Allied Arts”
Carolyn Watts, Princeton University


Stemming from dissertation work, this is a chapter draft from my upcoming book on Russian dancer-choreographer Adolph Bolm (1884-1951). It centers on Bolm’s time in Chicago in the 1920s, particularly his work for the Chicago Allied Arts, a short-lived performing arts enterprise he founded alongside Chicago composer John Alden Carpenter in 1924. For three years, the organization served as an incubator for experiments in dance and music, thereby serving as a nexus for modernism in the Midwest. Included are discussions of Bolm’s creative and professional partnership with Carpenter, his complex mentorship of the young ballerina Ruth Page, and how the dancer’s rhetoric aligned with Chicago’s infamous brand of boosterism. This work ultimately serves to recalibrate the dominant historical narrative of early American ballet.
Additionally, I would like to set aside some time in the seminar to discuss the strategies a card-carrying musicologist might use to approach dance studies.

03/25/2024 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
“‘The Gown and Paraphernalia’: Dora Cole Norman’s Star of Ethiopia”
Carrie Streeter, Appalachian State University

04/29/2024 Zoom
6:00 PM
The resilience of lycra™: militarism, dance and historical expansion (OR, THE STORY OF FIBER K)
Rachel Fensham, University of Melbourne


In this paper, the archival legacy of Merce Cunningham’s costumes will be examined for their uses of color, in particular, colored dyes. It will argue that colored dyes, both water-based and acetate, constitute a foundational layer of diversity in an otherwise standard “uniform” of unitards, leotards and tights; one informed by both Josef Alber’s color theory and contemporaneous technological innovations. In works from Minutiae to CWRDSPCR and Ocean,
the color of costume modifies the tonality of the choreography and enumerates a distinctive aesthetics that is not without authorial, ideological, or poetic intent. The paper will also suggest that the materiality of color processes – the costs and labor of sourcing and using dyes – highlights the role of women in evolving the choreographic vision of the unitard in contradistinction to the much-celebrated role of Cunningham’s male design collaborators.