February – May 2000

Dance has long been considered the most ephemeral of the arts – existing only in time and space during a given performance. It has no enduring physical form like a painting, a sculpture or a book. Throughout most of its history the dance has had no widely accepted means of notation.

The earliest dance forms are preserved exclusively in the visual arts and in passing references by early writers. Greek vase paintings, for example, often depict dancing figures, giving valuable insights into ancient dance practices. Painting and sculpture continue to provide evidence of the art of dance through the ages, from friezes of classical dance positions on South Asian temples to Breughel’s partying peasants of sixteenth-century Flanders.

Beginning in the Renaissance, dance masters began to write books outlining the theory and practice of dance. The text (and sometimes illustrations) of these manuals give evidence of the social context of dance, the approved style and etiquette, and the patterns and steps of the dances themselves. Later, dance became increasingly popular as a theatrical art. Memoirs, reviews and eyewitness accounts of performances provided another perspective on how dance was performed.

Photography was the first of several technological innovations that added to our ability to document dance. A photograph could preserve a moment in an actual dance performance. Later, the invention of film, and eventually video, permitted an entire dance performance to be captured. Parallel to these technical innovations came the development of various dance notation schemes, culminating in “Labanotation.” This early twentieth-century method of scoring or recording dance movements has become the most widely used notation system.

In many societies dance plays an important role in ritual, and has been a part of both sacred and secular celebrations on every continent. It is also an important form of recreation for people around the world. Whether they dance as individuals or as couples, in lines or in circles, people from all walks of life find pleasure and self-expression participating in the dance. In the modern era dance has also taken its place among the performing arts, first on the stage and now also on film and video.

Dance plays a significant role at the University of Iowa as a formal academic program and as a vital part of our cultural scene. It enriches community life, and ultimately serves as an expression and acknowledgment of our diverse identities.

We gratefully acknowledge and thank the following for assistance and the loan of display materials:
David Berkey, Chair, the University of Iowa Department of Dance
Alan Sener, Associate Professor Dance
Hancher Auditorium – Judith Hurtig, Assistant Director for Marketing, and Ron McClellen, Designer
Margaret Wenk, Designer, Performing Arts Production Unit

This exhibition was prepared by Stephen Dew, Carol Howard, Dean Koster, Timothy Shipe and Cynthea Mosier.