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Course Spotlight

Winter 2018

Dance in Modern Asia: History, Identity, Politics | ASIAN 408.001

About the Instructor

Emily Wilcox is an Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a member of the Center for World Performance Studies Advisory Board. She is a specialist in Chinese dance and performance culture, with broader interests in twentieth-century history, transnationalism, gender, and social movements.

She started studying dance at five years old-- first ballet, then in college competitive ballroom dance. While in graduate school completing her PhD in anthropology, she began studying Chinese dance and had the opportunity to spend three semesters at the Beijing Dance Academy as a visiting student. Although her primary focus is Chinese dance, she researches many other dance communities in Asia. She is currently working on several books about dance in Asia, the newest of which examines Asian women dancers who crossed borders and shaped global dance history during the early twentieth century.  

Describe the inspiration for the development of this course:

I have been wanting to create a class on dance in Asia since I came to U-M five years ago. Although all of the courses I teach are on fascinating subjects, dance is my true passion, so I am thrilled to be finally offering a class on this topic. Since Asia has one of the most vibrant and diverse dance scenes in the world, the most difficult part of designing this course has been narrowing down the material. It's just not possible to cover everything interesting about dance in Asia in one semester! In the end, I decided to focus on a topic that especially interested me as a researcher: the role that individual choreographers have played in transforming and re-imagining traditional Asian dance forms for the modern concert stage. In their creative processes, artists often engage complex issues of politics and identity, ranging from religious ethics and gender norms to class inequalities and colonial violences. My goal was to develop a class in which students place themselves in the position of these artists, to understand why they made the choices they did, and how their decisions ultimately changed the course of Asian dance history.


What are the principal learning objectives in this course?

This course explores the history of concert dance in Asia since the early twentieth century. Focusing on the contributions of influential individual Asian dancers and choreographers, it provides students a broad introduction to dance in the Asian region, asking how artists in different places dealt with similar social issues and global historical and political changes. Considering Asian artists as an integral component of modern dance history, this class shifts understandings of dance innovation and change away from Eurocentric narratives and assumptions. The following regions will be covered: South Asia (India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka); East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan); Southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia); Central Asia (Uzbekistan); and Asian diasporas.


Who should take this course?

There are no prerequisites for this course. While I especially welcome students with a background in dance or Asian studies in some form, neither is required. Students who have strong a background in an Asian dance form will have an opportunity to teach a dance workshop as a course assignment. However, this is not a requirement and students without this background will be able to contribute equally in different ways. Assignments will include a mixture of readings, viewings, writing exercises, and a research project in a format of the student's choice.


How do students across disciplines benefit from performance theory, and classes that integrate performance studies coursework?

Performance is one of the most integrative forms of human expression, blending narrative, music, visual design, movement, and material culture. By experiencing and learning about performance, students can master new analytical skills, while gaining synthetic knowledge about the entire social and cultural world in which the performance takes place. Because performance is such an important part of Asian culture, learning about Asian performance opens the door to broader knowledge and understanding about this important part of the world.