Bridging dance and literature


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Dancers drag themselves out of Halsey Hall sweaty, with their hair tied up in buns, donning sweatpants, walking slowly on sore legs. Meanwhile, writers saunter out of the English-Philosophy Building with their beanies on, backpacks full of books, and coffees in hand, head spinning with Shakespeare or Ginsberg quotes.

Besides their shared exhaustion, the two liberal-arts disciplines seem to have little in common. But for the Society of Dance History Scholars, the Congress on Research in Dance, and the University of Iowa Dance Department, the relationship between dance and literature will take center stage today through Nov. 16 at the Writing Dancing/Dancing Writing Conference in the IMU. 

During the event, scholars, researchers, performers, and students will explore the relationship between literature and dance in aspects such as tradition, duration, meaning, aesthetics, and communication. 

Last November, the joint conference between was held at the University of California-Riverside, and the conference after this one will be held in Athens. 

UI dance Associate Professor Rebekah Kowal, the vice president of the dance society, said organizers made an effort to incorporate Iowa City culture into the event.

“Each conference has its own theme,” she said. “So when we came up with this theme, we were thinking about the University of Iowa as the writing university and all the writing programs here. We wanted to make it more of a local idea, so we came up with that title.”

Though dance and literature are very different artistic platforms, Kowal said, both are used to illustrate the human condition.

“The idea is creativity as a kind of research, so what could we learn about the world by making a dance, not just the dance as reflection of the world, but the dance as integral to learning about our experience,” she said.

Today, the conference will consist mainly of board meetings for the two organizations. Afterwards, there will be welcome addresses and a few different performances. For the rest of the weekend, there will be an array of lectures, performances, panels, and roundtables.

“It’s like a big buffet of dance scholarship,” said Kathryn Skinner, the president of the Undergraduate Dance Organization. “Find an interesting subject of interest, listen to a few speakers present their own narrow perspective on that subject, and continue to question and investigate their words as you read about dance and watch dance.”

Erin Donohue, the Hancher education programming director, said the educational aspect of the program is as important as its entertainment value.

“People can attend these panels and learn different themes from these scholars,” she said. “The main focus is people being able to present their research.”

Donohue said the event is not just for dancers alone.

“It’s a great learning experience,” she said. “So even if you’re not specifically focused on dance or writing, but you’re interested in attending a conference and learning a bunch of info, it’s a rare opportunity. People are coming from across the world, and it’s a great opportunity to hear from people who are really well-known in their field. People interested in journalism, criticism, and nonfiction writing would benefit most.”

To start the event, Susan Leigh Foster will host an abstract performance in Art Buliding West. Instead of having a set place for the performers and the audience, the audience will be able to walk around during the keynote presentation to get different perspectives.

More than 300 people have registered for the conference, and attendees can also register on site. To see a schedule of events, visit sdhscordconference.org.

Key Events in the Conference

Welcome Reception, 5-7 p.m. today, Art Building West
• Finger foods and beverages
• Welcome Addresses
• Susan Leigh Foster performance
• M.F.A./ International Writing Program collaborative performance

Keywords for Dance Research Panel, 9-10:30 a.m. Friday, 181 IMU
• Discussing the words “Contemporary,” “Classical Dance,” “Ausdruckstanz,” and “Modern Dance”
Plenary Performance & Performance Showcase, 8-9 p.m. Saturday, IMU Second-Floor Ballroom
• Excerpts by Thomas F. DeFrantz and Kenneth D. Stewart
• Healing Wars, by Liz Lerman, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Space/Place
• Featured performance of the conference
• Deals with war and healing after battle

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