An Introduction to Dancing Digital

by: Rebecca Salzer, Project Director

Welcome to the Dancing Digital project!  We are a group of dance artists, educators, scholars, archivists, and legal and systems design specialists, working with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create and facilitate more centralized, accessible, equitable, and forward-thinking dance resources online.

Our project seeks to move toward solving the following vast problem: despite advances in the technologies that allow recording and sharing, significant barriers still prevent access to diverse and high-quality recorded dance materials. Current dance materials online are fragmented and difficult to find, excerpted rather than complete, and heavily Eurocentric.  These issues profoundly impede dance scholarship and education and limit the potential for artists to reach audiences.

Our work builds upon and acknowledges previous efforts, including the Digital Dance Library Planning Project led by Dr. Alberta Arthurs (2001-2003), the Dance Heritage Coalition’s (DHC) Secure Media Network pilot project led by Libby Smigel (2007-2014), and the DHC’s fair use forums that convened the field on how to balance the needs of dance scholars and educators with the rights of creators, resulting in their 2008 Statement of Best Practices in Fair Use of Dance-Related Materials

The lack of access to recorded dance materials has complex causes, from a tangle of intellectual property concerns to the funding limitations of individual artists, companies, and collection holders.  To move the needle on these larger issues, this project has narrowed its focus in the following ways:

  • Dancing Digital begins by addressing the needs of dance educators and scholars because these needs – which, in themselves, are vast – are immediate.  They include improvements in the quantity, production-value, curation, diversity, completeness, and searchability of recorded dance works. With so many within the field of dance working fluidly between practice, theory, and education, addressing the needs of dance scholarship and education will impact the field as a whole.
  • Dancing Digital’s focus in this phase of the project is on modeling innovative and transformative uses of dance recordings rather than on collecting or aggregating a large corpus of recorded dance works. The hope is that this model will inspire collection-holders, dance companies, and individual artists to grant access to their holdings, resulting in a sea-change in the field’s attitude towards sharing work online and greater access.

With support from a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, nineteen working group members and advisors convened at the University of Alabama for a three-day symposium in May 2019.  Our goal was to address a series of guiding questions in order to survey and evaluate the online dance resources that currently exist and envision a new resource that would build on or augment them. The blog posts that follow will provide a summary of six panel discussions driven by these guiding questions, and addressing the following topics:

  • The history of efforts to improve access to online dance resources
  • The needs of dance scholars and educators
  • Current, innovative digital humanities research in dance
  • Intellectual property, fair use, and artist involvement
  • Curation & inclusion: creating a diverse and contemporary collection
  • Sustainability and open access

Follow this blog to read summaries of these sessions, learn about our upcoming public presentations, and get involved.  We are currently in the project’s planning phase, moving toward publishing a position paper (a term we prefer to “white paper”) and seeking funding for the project’s implementation. Dancing Digital is about field-wide cooperation. While our project is developing new models, we also seek to aggregate and amplify existing archival and sharing efforts.  We welcome your feedback and interest. 

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