Following the turn in the mid-1990s among American and British dance scholarship toward cultural studies and new historicism, one of the central preoccupations among scholars on dance has been to show the rest of the humanities just why dance is so important. In Germany after reunification, a similar turn occurred among German dance scholars, from an earlier, literary-critical orientation of Germanistik (German studies) toward a more interdisciplinary and methodologically expansive field of Kulturwissenschaft (cultural studies). Now, roughly twenty years later, the contours of this change come into focus.
New German Dance Studies, edited by Susan Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, shows the effect on dance scholarship in Germany as a result of the transition from dance framed in the context of philology to the study of dance as a part of the study of culture. Manning and Ruprecht’s aim with New German Dance Studies is both straightforward and in step with the mission of dance studies more generally: to show how thinking about dance enriches cultural studies.1
The shift from Germanistik to Kulturwissenschaft has led to many important changes among dance scholars. Prior to its cultural turn, dance scholarship in Germany operated vis-à-vis written language and under assumptions of the physical body as something “pre-discursive”: weighted down by textual analysis, such scholarship largely subscribed to “dance’s association with the unspeakable in the sense of that which must not be expressed—the socially or politically censored—and that which cannot be expressed—the ineffable” (3). In the process, dance had become something untouchable, mystical, anti-intellectual. More importantly, moving bodies as objects of study found themselves locked inside a maze of assumptions, which remained unexamined by the discipline that purported to unlock its power for other disciplines.
Enter Kulturwissenschaft. Understood less as a theoretical or methodological trend in German (or European) scholarly debates of the late twentieth century, German cultural studies formed a discursive space to show “how current research operates both informed by and ‘after’ theory” (2). Such space, Manning and Ruprecht note, has enabled dance scholars to work against traditions of anti-intellectualism and exceptionalism about the body generated by earlier historiographies rooted in Germanistik. In the past few decades, dance scholars have successfully stepped beyond the shadow of the “dualisms of mind and body, page and stage” and the “melancholic awareness of the impermanence of the dancing body” that limit understandings about the body, dance, and movement (3–4).
As the fifteen essays collected in New German Dance Studies show, contemporary scholars on dance in the German-speaking world continue to carry the banner of both cultural studies and new historicism. Excavating conceptual origins and “ideological contexts that insist on dance as fleeting, indescribable movement,” this wide-ranging collection of essays embraces interdisciplinarity, critical self-consciousness, sensitivity to power-structures undergirding scholarship and history, and a resistance to claims of inherent or essential truths. All of the essays in the volume operate on “the assumption that any type of cultural enunciation can be approached like a (polysemous) text” (9). Incorporating ideas of embodiment and embodied knowledge crucial to the foundation of dance studies as a field, these contemporary German dance scholars have begun to comprehensively consider the meaning and function of discourse based on the claims we make about the relationship between dance, knowledge, culture, and history.
At present, dance researchers on both sides of the Atlantic are in a position to make unique claims contributing to a wide body of scholarship in the humanities. Under the more general goal of showing how dance studies enriches [End Page 123] cultural studies, Manning and Ruprecht articulate the specific task of dance scholars as having to do with knowledge production. “If dance constitutes a culture of knowledge, in which ways does its dynamic, sensuous, and corporeal practice affect our general understanding of knowledge in diverse realms of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences?” (9). This is a question of no small import to dance scholars, and it...