- Dancing Communities: Performance, Difference, and Connection in the Global City
In Community, there is shared memory, unity of purpose, mutual commitment, reciprocal responsibility, and common destiny. In Community, there is powerful energy that heightens awareness, supports unfolding consciousness, strengthens cosmic connection, enhances prayer, deepens meditation, and affirms transcendent experience. In community there is sharing of tragedy and triumph—joy enhanced, sorrow eased. In community, there is support for personal healing—the pain and suffering of physical disease and emotional trauma tempered and soothed. In community there is encouragement and energy for global healing—the task of transforming and perfecting the world advocated and empowered.—Rabbi Wayne Dosick, Dancing With God
The cultural landscape of Los Angeles, California, is riddled with sites and centers of dance making, from the more renown hotspots like REDCAT downtown, the Electric Lodge in Venice, and Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, to the street corner studios and living-room rehearsal spaces peppered throughout the Los Angeles basin. As dancers across disciplines carve out their spaces of creative practice, a network of overlapping communities emerges—a localized infrastructure paradoxically rooted in movement. Through dance, these communities shape bodies, fashion identities, redefine social locations, and lay a foundation for choreographing urban relations.
Judith Hamera's Dancing Communities: Performance, Difference and Connection in the Global City explores the form and function of this alternative geography through five separate case studies of dance in Los Angeles: Pilates training and ballet at Le Studio in Pasadena, Butoh with Oguri in Venice, Khmer classical dance from the perspective of a refugee family living in Long Beach, and the aesthetics and philosophies of the downtown modern dance company Hae Kyung Lee and Dancers. Hamera's ethnography focuses on the techniques of these disparate forms as protocols by which practitioners, both amateur and professional, come to understand themselves as creators of and agents within their own communities. Her goal is to reframe the intimate aspects of training, performance, and spectatorship in order to cast dance as a practice of everyday urban living. While Los Angeles is the primary landscape for her research, the larger project of Hamera's investigation is to understand the role of performance in establishing civic infrastructure and to position dance as an active and deliberate technique of urban place making. Though other authors have addressed this possibility in different globalized cities (Savigliano 1994; Ness 2002; Taylor 2003), Dancing Communities is the first text of its kind focused on Los Angeles. While not exhaustive, her chosen sampling navigates the complicated [End Page 94] and celebrated diversity that has come to characterize the City of Angels.
Hamera begins her argument by suggesting that dance technique is a form of social, political, and spiritual labor that acts as an archive, preserving the past and looking toward the future. In her analysis of Pilates training, she focuses on the duality of "technique as a disciplinary project, and technique as an alibi for intimacy" (2007, 31). For Hamera, this intimacy is cultivated through a shared understanding of the body's physical limits, the metaphors used to organize the body in practice, and the sharing of personal stories in the studio, all of which insert play into the work of technique. Hamera's reoccurring focus on technique throughout the book enforces her argument that learned, practiced, and perfected movement behavior cultivated through dance training has broad and lasting social effects within the communities in which it is performed.
Intimacy as a technique of community formation can also be found in the work of spectatorship, which Hamera examines vis-à-vis the performances of Los Angeles–based Butoh dancer Oguri. Challenging Peggy Phelan's call for a spectatorship without possessiveness (1998), Hamera asks, "Can't the impulse to hold on to performance, however futile, be recast as a move to a deeper, sustained and socially productive intimacy in/as community" (37)? Hamera qualifies Oguri's virtuosity as a sacred catalyst for such community formation, yet she fails to discuss how...