We devote this issue of the Nordic Journal of Dance to papers on the subject of ’Dance & Democracy’, presented at the 13th international Nordic Forum for Dance research (NOFOD Conference in June 14–17, 2017, at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. The goal of the conference was to explore issues related to democracy, such as empowerment, social justice, equality and freedom.

We contend that the word ’democracy’ connotes not only a civil right to participate in society, but also the right to have a voice of one’s own, to engage in a constant struggle for freedom and to protest against repression of any kind. This broad conception of democracy is not always honoured, either in society as a whole or within the realm of dance. Although dance is often regarded as a paragon of free expression and freedom, that reputation is frequently belied by manifestations of repression and exclusion. This issue provides rich insights into the manner in which dance is influenced by societal power structures that allow, encourage, inhibit or even prevent its performance. More positively, this issue includes papers that illustrate how dance can give ’ordinary’ people voice and space for new expression, improve their well-being and provide opportunities for social interaction. Taken as a whole, however, the articles assembled here provide a clear warning that assuming that dance and democracy are naturally linked would not only be simplistic, but also dangerous.

The first two papers in this issue are devoted to historical and sociological perspectives. In her essay «Democratising Moves: Power, Agency and the Body,» the keynote presentation at the conference, Stacy Prickett begins by analysing prevalent concepts of democracy in the 18th-century revolutions in the USA and France, followed by consistent threats to democracy worldwide.

The second historical and sociological article is Hanna Järvinen’s «Democratic Bodies? Reflections on ’Postmodern Dance’ in the United States and in Finland». Järvinen provides a critical reading of ’post-modern dance’ in the (dominant) American and local Finnish contexts. She argues that when the term ’democracy’ entered the discourse of dance, its meaning was adjusted to fit the canon of the art form. Both an ideal and a concept, she observes that references to ’democracy’ in the dance context tend to ignore actual power relations inherent in art and its institutions.

The next two articles are «Cultural Rights, Well-Being and Democracy in Elderly Care: The Dance Ambassadors as a Case Study,» by Kai Lehikoinen, and «’Når noko rart blir naturlig’ Ungdomsskuleelevar si oppleving med deltaking i eit kunstnarisk danseprosjekt», by Reidun Nerhus Fretland. Both are based on research with non-dancers who were given the opportunity to participate in dance projects – Finland Dance Ambassadors, a service offered in various social contexts by the Dance Centre of Western Finland, and a Norwegian program organised through Den Kulturelle skolesekken. Both authors describe the societal and individual benefits of being involved in dance and expressing one’s self through dancing, alone or with others, in a meaningful social context. These articles contribute to our knowledge of how dance can empower both elderly people in rehabilitation settings and children in secondary school.

The two last articles engage the theme of dance and democracy in different but equally critical contexts, exploring how power structures define the possibilities through which dancers express themselves and do what they love. In «‘Get in Your Theatres; the Street is Not Yours’: The Struggle for the Character of the Public Space in Tunisia», Heather Harrington, the only non-Nordic contributor to this issue, critically examines the efforts of two Tunisian dancers at using movement to address political concerns facing society. While asserting their right to express their dance and themselves, they also express solidarity with ordinary citizens in the face of the government’s attempt to repress and control.

Hilde Rustad’s context and concerns are quite different, evidenced from her title «Age and Gender in the European Contact Improvisation Community». From her position as an ’older’ dancer in the Contact Improvisation (CI) community, Rustad examines the values associated with democracy within this dance genre. Despite the community’s professed ideals, she observes that as dancers get older, they experience exclusion and that younger dancer overlook them. She problematizes how the power structure, social hierarchies and traditional gender roles retain their power, even within communities that consider themselves democratic, sensitive to diversity and committed to equity for all kinds of bodies.

In addition, Hanna Pohjola & Sini Länsivuori have contributed with a Practice Oriented Article: «Beyond Tero Saarinen Technique: Method of Hybrid Pedagogy in Action.»

We wish all of our readers a Happy Holiday and hope that the contributors’ empirical findings and theoretical perspectives will inform and inspire you.

Gunn Engelsrud Editor



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