Questions of cultural memory have increasingly concerned scholars and politicians in recent decades, as nations have sought to come to terms with traumas such as the Holocaust, communist repression, apartheid, genocide, and the legacies of slavery and colonialism (Huyssen, 2003). While many studies of cultural memory have focused on officially sanctioned forms of commemoration, such as monuments and national celebrations, unofficial popular cultural practices often tell a different story about the past. For example, the capacities of popular film and popular music to carry cultural memories are already topics of research (for example, Kuhn, 2002; Popular Music and Cultural Memory project, Australian Research Council; Popular Music Heritage, Cultural Memory and Cultural Identity project, HERA). However, arguably one of the most powerful vehicles for cultural memory is also the least studied: the body as a site for the performance, negotiation and transmission of cultural values. In particular, popular dance practices present a unique opportunity to observe the creative negotiation between past and present, made visible through dancing bodies adapting yesterday’s steps to today’s concerns.
Although references to Proustian sensory reverie (1992; orig. 1913-1927) and Bergsonian habitual memory (2004; orig. 1896) abound in the cultural memory literature, consideration of the body in memory studies is uneven and underdeveloped. Pierre Nora’s large-scale study of French national memory (1984-1992) constructed a romantic view of gestural memory as authentic, but depleted in modern life, neglecting the many ways in which memory practices have remained embodied. The sociologist Paul Connerton reopened the possibility of researching bodies as carriers of cultural memory in his 1989 book How Societies Remember, and embodied memory has since been explored in contexts such as performance (Taylor, 2003) and film (Landsberg, 2004). However, where the body is invoked in memory studies, it is predominantly in relation to the senses and trauma, and not body movement. Yet, popular dance offers a potent medium for cultural memory. Often spontaneous and improvised, many popular dance practices have the flexibility to be shaped and adapted by skilled dancers and teachers in response to changing contexts, and their informal transmission, evading regulation and censorship, makes them ideal vehicles for cultural ideas that might not otherwise be voiced.
Over the last two years, the AHRC-funded 'Dancing with Memory' project has explored relationships between popular dance and cultural memory, led by Dr Clare Parfitt at University of Chichester. One of the outcomes of the project will be an edited collection bringing together current scholarship in this area from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We invite researchers working at the interface of dance and memory studies to contribute chapters to this collection. Contributions focusing on any popular dance practice are welcome, and we are keen to include a wide range of methodologies and disciplinary approaches. To register your interest in contributing, please submit a 250-word abstract and indicative bibliography to firstname.lastname@example.org by 31st July 2017. For further information on the Dancing with Memory project, please visit www.dancingwithmemory.wordpress.com or our Facebook page www.facebook.com/dancingwithmemoryproject