In this day and age of globalization and Europeanization, many regions (re)emerge as thriving political and cultural entities, sometimes in critical response to the larger contexts, sometimes in productive dialogue. What could be more fitting then, than to review a volume entitled Nordic Dance Spaces: Practicing and Imagining a Region in the Nordic Journal of Dance? In addition, the book series where the volume is published by Ashgate is devoted to “The Nordic Experience.” An account of the historical development of the Nordic region and its shifting politics, boundaries and imaginaries, is thus superfluous here. Suffice it to say, as the editors Karen Vedel and Petri Hoppu do in the introductory chapter: dance has been included in various forms and contexts in relation to the Nordic region since the early twentieth century. One pivotal point around that time was Isadora Duncan’s visits to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. Later cross-border activities in dance have been, for instance, dancers working in a neighboring Nordic country, dance performances touring in other Nordic countries, and dance competitions and dance festival taking place in Nordic contexts. National dance organizations have liaised on a Nordic level.
Drawing on the five year research programme Dance in Nordic Spaces, the volume consists of a substantial introduction, “North in Motion,” by the editors and eight individual chapters by dance scholars from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. The aim of the volume is identified by Vedel and Hoppu as “to bring a critical understanding of the interplay between the practices of dance and other aspects of cultural and political life to the fore together with new insights into therole of dance in shaping Nordic spaces” (p. 1). This entails an engagement with contemporary as well as historical features of dance, networks of dancers and dance organizations, and certainly corporeal aspects that recur throughout the volume analyzing movement practices.
Theoretically, the volume builds mainly on Henri Lefebvre’s ideas on the production of space as consisting of a triad of interrelated dimensions: lived, perceived and conceived. Dance events such as performances, rehearsals and classes exemplify practices that are a part of the production of social space. As the editors emphasize, in this volume dance is not separated from space, but seen as an active force in space making. Then space also impacts on dance.
Other theoretical perspectives applied in the volume are feminism by Doreen Massey and Rosi Braidotti, and postcolonialism by Arjun Appadurai and Rustom Bharucha. Transnational theory as formulated by Steven Vertovec is also discussed. Methodologically, the volume combines ethnographic fieldwork in the form of participant observation with interviews, archival research of historical and policy documents as well as filmed footage of dance.
The chapters tackle the topic of the production of Nordic dance spaces from different disciplinary backgrounds: dance studies, music studies and theatre studies, and ethnology. It is interesting to note that in an interdisciplinary area such as dance studies, traditional disciplinary boundaries do not necessarily matter anymore. We now share methods and theory to a great extent. Originating in dance anthropology, dance ethnography, for instance, is a well-established method in dance studies. As many dance ethnographers have discovered, participation (if possible) in the dancing might be fruitful. The reason is that there is knowledge in the practice (Wulff 2013).
Researching the emergence of a Nordic space of rock’n’roll and other American swing dances between the 1940s and the 1960s, Inger Damsholt obviously used archival material in her excellent chapter, not least press articles on the moral panic generated by the film Rock Around the Clock. Here the transnational influence is obvious. It is a palpable case of how transnational flows are locally managed (Hannerz 1996) as these dances evolved into new participatory and competitive dance forms. By focussing on the role of dance spaces in the growing Barents region, Karen Vedel contributes interestingly to a wider discussion
on Nordic transnationality through the mobility of dancers looking for work and audiences. Writing about competitions in folk dancing in Nordic contexts, Mats Nilsson convincingly considers the change from participatory to presentational style of dancing. As to the notion of “folk”, he observes that the competitive dances lost their local meanings when they were included in non-localised dancing communities. Just like Damsholt, Lena Hammergren discusses how an American dance form was introduced in the Nordic region, more precisely African-American theatrical dance, also referred to as jazz dance, in the 1960s. The result was that a new movement diversity sprang up changing the previous dominance of ballet and European dance. Inspired by Appadurai’s five scapes, Hammergren’s skilled analysis builds on her concept “movementscape” meaning “spheres of life (economy, media, technology, people and ideologies) that relate different places and people to one another in flowing movements” (p. 105). Egil Bakka writes very well about class, leading figures and dance space in the Nordic countries in the early 1900s. The dance forms are theatre dance, folk dance and ballroom, and then he adds “dancing crowds” to signify spaces such as assembly buildings where people would get together to dance. Inka Juslin’s chapter is set in North America as it investigates the reception of visiting Nordic dancers and companies there between 2007 and 2011. This is a fascinating account of national representation of dance in North America within a Nordic frame. Back in the Nordic region, Anne Margrete Fiskvik does a great job in her chapter on dancers’ work culture in the early twentieth century, especially in Norway. There were the often tacit cultural codes that dancers had to deal with as they moved between “serious” and “popular” dance venues. This she relates to issues of hierarchy and power in the dance world. The final chapter by Petri Hoppu is a fine examination of the Nordic folk dance movement, spanning the beginning, with a convention in 1920, to 1975 when the NORDLEK agreement took charge of the Nordic folk dance organizations. This opened up dance spaces of transnational cultural form.
In conclusion, Nordic Dance Spaces is a great read: well-crafted and engaging. It should be used extensively in teaching and research. My only objection is the price: almost 900 SEK at Adlibris. I hope university libraries will buy the e-book as it is more than 1000 SEK. Otherwise the volume will not be used in teaching without illegal copying.
Professor of social anthropology at Stockholm University