- Indigenous Dance and Dancing Indian: Contested Representation in the Global Era by Krystal, Matthew
Occasionally a book comes along that deserves careful reading because you recognize that each idea being addressed is important and insightful, with no filler material. Matthew Krystal has produced that type of book for me. His nuanced, culturally, theoretically, and historically grounded analysis of four genres of publicly performed dance that are connected to representations of Indigenous peoples is carefully crafted and multi-layered. The author provides an extensive account about each dance genre; I found this degree of detail was necessary, for example, in order to appreciate the nuances of K’ichi’ Maya traditional dance in its socio-historical context. Others may equally need to familiarize themselves with Native American powwow dancing or the dancing performance of the University of Illinois mascot, Chief Illiniwek. I was personally grateful to get to these more familiar forms of dance, while still being able to further enhance my knowledge on each one through his accounts. His final category of dance, Latino folkloric dance in the Chicago area, was one I have not seen analyzed in research this way; it definitely added to his analysis and argument that all dance is an expression of ethnic identity.
Krystal set out to compare and contrast four genres of dancing. The first two types are performed by indigenous groups: the K’iche’ Maya traditional dancers in Guatemala and Native American powwow dancers. Two other forms represent indigenous dance but are performed by “Others”—in these cases non-indigenous dancers are performing indigenous identities not aligned with their own heritage, while still declaring their dance as “authentic.” He frames traditional dances within colonial expansion and imperialism while the other two dance forms are framed as responses to modernity, globalization, and colonialism. He takes into account the nature of the audience as well as the dancers, framing this public dancing as a secular ritual that provides benefits for select audience members and dancers since “effective ritual establishes bases for both conformity and social solidarity” (p. 19). His assumptions include “that dance forms vary according to needs of and constraints on the dancers and audiences” (p. 269); that both continuity and change occur as part of authentic dancing cultural practices; and that contexts of colonization, globalization, transnationalism, and unequal power relations all contribute towards shaping the eventual dance form. [End Page 515]
His book is divided into six parts. In part one, he explains the sociocultural phenomenon of dance and dance as a secular ritual. He then develops a framework for how dance “intersects with key dimensions of identity and power in globalized contexts” (pp. xix, xx). He also effectively reviews key themes that are used in the analysis, including authenticity, identity, and globalization. The next four parts each address one of the four types of dance, providing the historical/cultural context for the dance, descriptions of the dances that are part of this genre, and key issues addressed such as authenticity, unequal power relations, and continuity and change. These in-depth accounts ensure that when final comparisons are outlined between various genres in the last part of the book, the reader has the background to understand and appreciate the claims being made. Krystal also provides very helpful summary tables that lay out the similarities and differences in this last section, ending with a final table that compares all four genres. His concluding chapter provides an insightful summary on dance forms and power.
Krystal’s ethnographic doctoral research in Guatemala on K’itchi’ Maya traditional dance seems to have provided an ideal basis for this comparative work. His observations of powwow and Latino dancing around Chicago, furthered by visits to other powwows in the United States and return trips to Guatemala, effectively extend the work he did in his doctoral dissertation. He uses ethnographically-grounded personal stories to introduce each new part of the book and links them to several key points being made...