As I look through copious notes that led over the course of the past two years to this first issue, I see that I initially posed the question “Accepting that the artist is a public intellectual, who is the dancer citizen?”
Our shared goal emerged from lengthy and ongoing discussion: To formally acknowledge, publicize and encourage the contributions that dance artists make as citizens to the communities and societies in which they live and work. Our mode was also established: an on-line, open-access academic journal of peer-reviewed contributions in any form (danced, written, other), from any area of dance practice (performance, education, research, other).
Editorial discussions included examination of our individual motivations for pursuing this endeavor—or, as Annie Tucker asked, “Why are we doing this now?”
For my part, I can answer that my research interests are dance leadership, dance and human rights, and how we search for solutions to the world’s so-called “wicked problems” through artistic practice. As an artist/scholar, I hold the convictions that dance is an intrinsic and universal human activity; that each of us has a social responsibility to all others; and that the opportunity to reach our individual capabilities in every realm is a basic human right. I identify my own process with that Becker (2009) ascribed to artists: that those of us “who grapple with the development of ideas into forms have a fundamental faith that if [we] give ourselves over entirely to the process of creating, then an object, event, or environment will change”. I indeed have such faith—that knowledge generated within dance practice can and should contribute to solving our intractable problems.
I take as given that as artists, scholars, and citizens, we are legitimately part of any discussion of human rights, problems, solutions, and policy. As artists, we have our own ways of working, and our own knowledge that originates from who we are and how we work. We know things that others will not. We hold unique knowledge—as do other practitioner/scholars in other disciplines.
I believe the problems facing us are complex, and deserve/require scholarly input from all quarters in the search for solutions. I also believe in an evolving/emergent—not to say wandering—process: the need to have space and time to let ideas develop. My hope is that The Dancer-Citizen will provide time, space, and the forum for those ideas.
Julie B. Johnson:
Connecting thought to page as tendon joins muscle to bone.
Transforming the visceral to verbal, inking pathways that emerge only when you're in my hand.
Scratch the surface with gestural inscription, leaving trails of me between the lines.
Tasked with writing this Editor's Note, a response to the question, "Why are we doing this now?" I experienced a sort of physical stasis, a paralyzing weightedness. I quickly realized this energy is not actually static, it is just so abundant and has nowhere to go. It boils and churns with potential, a sickening rage waiting to be moved. I am becoming familiar with this feeling, it's why I stopped watching the news. So, in order to be able to write, I began with a body scan, I mapped the rage. I described for myself the sensorial experience of sitting with pen in hand. What emerged is the poem above, a sort of affirmation of my corporal relationship to the written word that opened channels of thought and experience. Lately, I have found it useful to approach dance the same way. I begin by mapping the rage.
Dance has created numerous opportunities for me to find meaning and understanding in the world, as an individual and as part of a collective, connecting/creating corporeal and social experience. I so often cannot speak the words to convey what my body knows, to assign verbal language to visceral understanding. I attune to the location and movement of the social in my own body. Where is it? How does it move in my body? How does it move me? Where are the spaces I can explore it, move it? In the face of seemingly insurmountable injustices, how am I silenced? How does movement give me voice?
Extending these questions outward, beyond self, I feel exhilarated by the possibilities that lie in the space between subjective and intersubjective, by the potential of individual desire and its kinetic journey towards collective action.
In establishing the call for submissions for this inaugural issue of The Dancer-Citizen, we wrestled with how firmly to try to guide the subject: should we pose a focused question, establish a theme, post a prompt as guidance? Eventually, we decided to cast the widest possible net and see where the process led.
We also discussed whether the journal would be “scholarly”. In answering this, Julie B. Johnson proposed a definition of scholarship that has been applied to this issue: an investment in and a commitment to an idea and/or process.
The resulting theme for this issue is a beginning picture of the dancer-citizen at work: some of the forms that work might take, some of the processes that may be involved, how it is instigated, what it hopes to do. Three of our contributors offered written articles; three submitted video pieces with and without written accompaniment. Five of our authors are reporting on their own practices; one offers an historical appreciation of a role model. Across the contributions, certain themes emerge: a deep investment in collaboration, a willingness to endure discomfort and risk conflict for the sake of open dialogue, a faith that personal experience has immense value when making art that aims to resonate with a broader community or the wider public, and an orientation towards creative solutions, even to problems that at times seem insurmountable.
Julie B. Johnson:
Jane Alexandre writes, "We know things that others will not. We hold unique knowledge." The submissions to the inaugural issue of The Dancer-Citizen demonstrate a range of methods contributors have developed to explore their unique embodied knowledge and the ways in which they address the specific needs, interests, and goals of their communities. Whether written, performed, conveyed through interviews, photos, or videos, whether uplifting, disturbing, or unresolved, this body of work maps the movements of scholarly commitment to observing, understanding, and responding to challenges. It is a contribution to a larger discourse around civic/artistic practice that connects the corporeal to the social, that open channels for thought and experience.