To Dance Is Human

To Dance Is Human

A Theory of Nonverbal Communication

Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988

(orig. 1979, University of Texas Press)

Judith Lynne Hanna, Ph.D.

Choice called the book “one of the most important dance books yet written.”

Ashley Montagu, in The Sciences, stated, “One of the great contributions of this book is to make clear as never before what a multi-sensory, multidimensional behavior dance is. Hanna ranges through the whole calculus of the meaning of dance, from the private solo dance as interior dialogue or soliloquy to the urban ecosystem of dance. In between are invaluable discussions of dancer movement and the communication of sociocultural patterns, dance in religion, dance rites in political thought and action, warrior dances, and finally a chapter on directions for the future. The report of the author’s own ethnographic studies of dance in Africa, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States add greatly to the value of the volume…Hanna’s splendid book is the best exposition of the science, art, and philosophy of dance that I have read.”

Lauren Corwin, in Dance Research Journal, wrote, “A significant contribution to the anthropological study of art forms of all kinds, not just the anthropology of dance.”

And in Dance magazine, Margaret Pierpont noted, “Hanna makes a strong case for the importance of research in dance in widening our knowledge of human behavior.”

Pulitzer prize winner for dance criticism, Alan M. Kriegsman, in The Washington Post, called To Dance Is Human a “landmark.”

To Dance Is Human has been deemed outstanding and has had a positive impact on dance scholarship. Laudatory reviews were widespread in the United States and abroad.

The book explains that dance is not merely emotion but why and how it is cognitive and language-like. To Dance Is Human is the first published analysis to apply knowledge from the arts, humanities, and social sciences — especially anthropology — to further illuminate our understanding of dance. More than a synthesis, it presents original field research and a new method for probing for meaning in movement.  The book fleshes out concepts of dance and its meanings. The concept of dance, not necessarily a particular dancer’s or group’s definition, attempts to permit cross-cultural discussion, especially important in our multicultural world.  Describing the physical actions of dance, like transcribing speech, is a beginning step in studying dance; making sense of these movements (comparable to literary analysis) requires further effort.  Because there were guides to describe physical movement, such as Rudolf Laban’s movement analyses, but none to probe for meaning in movement, To Dance Is Human presents a semantic grid as a tool for eliciting, reading, and interpreting the meaning of dance movement.  Drawing upon semiotic analyses of visual and verbal texts and the variety of dance found in history and different places, the author identified what appear to be six devices and eight spheres of encoding meaning in the webs of significance people spin in kinetic images.

To Dance Is Human has been widely cited and used as a text in such places as UCLA, Indiana University, Tufts University, and Temple University.  The work has been reaching a uniquely broad audience, including a mathematical theoretician in the membrane biology group, University of Toronto Department of Medicine.  Studies of dance since 1979 have either supported the propositions in To Dance Is Human or have not invalidated them; the book’s theory and supporting data still may best explain the multiplicity that is dance, and offer a prologue to current and future investigation.

The book has served as a foundation for the author’s subsequent books, The Performer-Audience Connection: Emotion to Metaphor in Dance and Society, University of Texas Press (Choice, outstanding book), 1983; Disruptive School Behavior: Class, Race, and Culture, Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1988; Dance, Sex, and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and Desire,  University of Chicago Press, 1988; Dancing for Health: Conquering and Preventing Stress, AltaMira Press; 2006; Partnering Dance and Education: Intelligent Moves for Changing Times, Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999; Naked Truth: A Christian Right; Strippers and Democracy (University of Texas Press, 2012) and Nigeria’s Ubakala Igbo Dance: Life, Death, and the Women’s War (in progress).

The book undergirds articles in numerous journals such as Africana Journal, American Journal of Dance Therapy, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Arts Education, Arts Education Policy Review, Ballet Review, Ballett International, City and Society, Critical Inquiry, Current Anthropology, Dance and the Child, Dance:  Current Selected Research, Dance Research Journal, Dance Teacher Now, Dance Theatre Journal, Drama Review, Educational Researcher, Gestos, Interethnic Communication, Journal of Arts Management Law and Society, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Journal of Black Studies, Journal of Communication, Journal of Physical Education, Journal of Planning Literature, Recreation, and Dance, Journal of the Washington Academy of Sciences, Phi Delta Kappan, Polish Art Studies, Practicing Anthropologist, Semiotica, Stagebill, The Journal of Sex Research, Theology and Sexuality, Washington Post, and World of Music; and contributions to edited volumes such as American Folklore:  An Encyclopedia, Dance, Gender and Culture, Dance of India, Dance/Movement Therapists in Action: A Working Guide to Research Options, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Encyclopedic Dictionary of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Encyclopedia of Human Emotions, Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America, The Encyclopedia of Religion, Encyclopedia of the Sciences of Learning, Ethnomusicology: An Introduction, Gender and Performance, Homosexuality and Homosexuals in the Arts, International Encyclopedia of Dance, Nonverbal Behavior:  Perspectives, Applications, Intercultural Insights, Popular Music and Communication, Semiotics in the Individual Sciences, Theatrical Movement:  A Bibliographical Anthology, and Women and Social Protest.

To Dance Is Human led to invitations to publish on semiotics in Belgium, Germany, Poland, United Kingdom, Sweden, South Africa, Santo Domingo, and Jamaica and disseminate specific parts of the book  in these countries, which has catalyzed further dance research  and analysis.  To Dance Is Human was a large element in the author’s receipt of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance, William G. Anderson Award for significant contributions to the dance field (awardees include George W. Beiswanger, Jacques d’Amboise, Katherine Dunham, Arthur Mitchell, Genevieve Oswald, Walter Terry, and Edward Villella) and to being called as an expert court witness on dance and communication.

TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction
Dance?
Psycho and Soma: Some Bases of the Human Phenomenon of Dance
Dance Movement and the Communication of Sociocultural Patterns
Dance in Religion: Practicality and Transcendentalism
Dance Rites in Political Thought and Action
Case A. Dance of Anáhuac: For God or Man in Prehistory
Case B. Ubakala Dance-plays: Mediators of Paradox
Warrior Dances: Transformations through Time
The Urban Ecosystem of Dance
Directions for the Future

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