Learning, Unlearning, and Relearning: The Importance of Keeping an Open Mind

For many years, my resolve for dance research was rooted to the concept of independence. That “dance research” maintained an autonomous relationship from actual “dance practice” and within this concept was the igniting component of dance being known as a physical product of an event. Hence, in my head, there was always a clear divide between a dance researcher and a dancer. 

Because of this, I have always espoused that the traditional structure of dance research in which dances (as I perceived) were viewed as objects to be investigated, usually by someone who was not practicing that particular dance form or was not part of that dance event. Again, in my head, this was the framework to follow.

A notion much similar to how my training was in a performing company where it was an embedded culture that a choreographer cannot undertake his or her own creative work or be one of the performers as this might interfere with fulfilling his or her stage directing obligations. In that environment, it was assumed that a choreographer’s work need to be appraised through a wider lens likened to that of an outsider’s, outsider being a non-performing observer. After all, many things get lost when one was participating or the one performing – be that a solo performance or with company. 

Folk dancers performing during the 70th Anniversary of the Folk Dance Group in Méhkerék, Hungary

However, my exposure last year to several works of European dance scholars, with emphasis on the article of Anca Giurchescu and Lisbet Torp entitled as Theory and Methods in Dance Research: A European Approach to the Holistic Study of Dance, has deconstructed this model in my head of an independent, separatist, nonpractice-based dance research and has given me several arguments to ponder. I wondered now how many more of my preconceptions will be transformed, even discredited if need be.

I have a simple aim and this was to pick through these arguments and relate it to my experience, with the objective that I will better understand the points highlighted by the authors and apply some of the concepts that I have been learning as of late for future research.

Understanding the Holistic Approach

I think that the most vital argument that the authors, Giurchescu and Torp, raised was the importance of the current broadening of the scope of research through continuous re-evaluations of dance concepts. This, however, was not a new occurrence as the same notion has been entertained before (Youngerman, 1975) wherein it was logged and debated over that dance research was considered a rapidly expanding field.

This was old news but of course, there was always a reason why old news remained in the mainstream.

Dance research should encompass the complementary utilization of different approaches which aimed to create a more acceptable holistic methodology. By holistic, I have observed that there was a resonance to Oxford’s description of it being characterized by the belief that parts of something were intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole. They have clearly pointed this out when they examined how the scholarly positions of dance research was related to other disciplines like folklore or musicology, and how specific research methods developed in European countries that stemmed from the socio-cultural and institutional setting of their period were then connected or utilized in dance studies. Basically remarking that the field of dance was not really separate from other fields of knowledge or from the pragmatic influence of subjective experiences. In fact, they have repeatedly entailed the existence of an intimate relationship of dance structure to dance meaning, to socio-political context, to culture, to documentation, to morphology and syntax, to the roles played in dance events, amongst many observed elements. 

Again, this was not a current phenomenon. Many already knew this but out of this population of ‘many,’ how many acknowledged the phenomenon and actually made an effort to make other people understand it? 

The interconnection pointed out made me think of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s[1] rhizome, a web of interconnecting elements. Although not entirely similar, the emphasis on ‘interconnection’ makes the rhizome philosophy quite the ideal doppelganger for the authors’ direction in achieving the holistic approach in dance research.

As my point of comparison for example, to be a dance researcher was not just to engage solely with a single activity such as observing a dance event or interviewing a participant, but also to be involved in constructing simultaneous engagement of multiple active elements like dancing alongside participants, exercising creativity during the event, or studying the community in order to create a map of understanding. Ah, the oh-so-many roles we play when in the field!

During a ritual in the Manobo community in Agusan del Sur, Philippines

The key phrase was engagement in multiplicity which did not function in isolation. Further, “a multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing, in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows)” (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987, p.8). This then meant that it was also not static and that it changed in nature as it expanded its connections. A key phrase that was substantively similar to the development of dance research in different parts of the world and how it had dynamically evolved to its stance today, at least to my perception.   

Continuing in this line of comparison, the rhizome philosophy also somehow shed light to my confusion around supposed conclusive breaks or separations in dance research. Breaks and separations were just not viable because everything was interconnected and regardless of where ‘something’ started, it can proceed to any quadrant with no possible transcendence. Come to think of it, there were no breaks or separations – dance concepts simply adapted, evolved, expanded, and were renamed in accordance to the changing time.

This was probably why locating the line that was separating American anthropology from European ethnochoreology was still a strenuous task for me. The truth was – it was not an easy feat to identify the differences of the two approaches nowadays, or other approaches. It cannot simply be placed on “broad generalizations that [we]re rooted in lack of mutually shared knowledge, partly caused by language barriers and in gaining access to relevant information” as how Giurchescu and Torp asserted in their article, for a number of reasons. One, many things have changed since the time the article was written and language issues or information access complications were now considered antiquated issues. Two, the basic differences that were enumerated in the beginning of the article were now confounded with the on-going reality that many anthropologists do not just limit their researches on cultures that were different from their own or that some ethnochoreologists have deviated from the purist approach of conceiving dance materials in its pure choreographic features.

This was likewise why rhizome philosophy made understanding the holistic approach so much easier. The idea of ‘interconnected totality’ noted that one can go from one direction to another, and that one cannot just staunchly occupy a point or state a position if the most ideal output was to be aimed. Just as I cannot say that as a dance researcher, I will simply observe and analyze dance as an object, or exclusively use the anthropological perspective for any study that I will dive into. This kind of naïve take on dance research will no longer help me in producing the desired output. 

In addition, the said philosophy also appropriately captured the deficit in the conception of ‘objects’ where often than not, the connection being emphasized was invisible. For instance, if I continued investigating dance as an object, I might just be extensively limiting my research within the bounds of the physical form of the dance, and not fully making myself aware of the fact that the existence of the dance was connected to the socio-cultural dimensions of the community where the dance was (or is still) practiced.

Méhkerék community dance celebration

The Challenge 

Multiple resources from different approaches seem the ideal route. As discussed, it will be ineffectual in this time and age to persist on confining the dance research in a single approach, method, or tool when there were several alternatives that can also help connect the elements emphasized in the study. However, there was a sizable challenge to consider since we were now on the matter of entertaining multiple interconnects. With all the possibilities, how then does one decide on which concepts to branch out from?  

I am now more aware that I will need to reflect on several questions which I never really paid much attention to in the past. Questions like Whose cultural context did I reflect on? Up to what extent? From which angle was I looking at? Why did I make such choices? Which bases did I consider for comparison?  Who were my references, informants, or participants?  Why did I choose them? What tools or methods did I utilize? What was really my goal? (Let us admit it, this last question was something that many of us either do not have a stance on or lie to ourselves about.)

Personally at this point, there was no perfect approach, however there was the most suitable, depending on what one wanted to accomplish. A dance researcher moves along, discovers many things, becomes susceptible to change, and then adapts. It was important to note that ‘choice’ was still a key component but that this ‘choice’ should not be confined in one box.  

I am in accord with the authors Giurchescu and Torp’s recommendations in the end of the article that “theory and methods in dance research should be further revised and improved” through employment of existing tools, development of new instruments based on the changing times, and continuous contact between an increasing number of dance scholars across the globe. There was always an avenue to learn, unlearn, and relearn what we know. 

(And) I think I do not just have ‘dance’ in my mind when I was writing this article. 



Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987) A Thousand Plateus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Somerset, Great Britain: Bookcraft (Bath) Ltd.

Giurchescu, A. and Torp, L. (1991) Theory and Methods in Dance Research: A European Approach to the Holistic Study of Dance. Yearbook for Traditional Music, 23, 1-10. 

Youngerman, S. (1975) Method and Theory in Dance Research: An Anthropological Approach. Yearbook of the International Folk Music Council, 7, 116 -133. doi: 10.2307/767594.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, a French philosopher, and Félix Guattari, a French psychiatrist and political activist, wrote a number of works together. Their conjoint works were Capitalism and SchizophreniaKafka: Toward a Minor Literature, and What is Philosophy.

[2] Defined as living, live, or naturally developing.

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