Professor to Strengthen Digital Dynamics of Dance via NEH Grant

From the January 2019 Desktop News | Rebecca Salzer, an assistant professor of dance and the interim director of the UA Collaborative Arts Research Initiative, recently received a Digital Humanities Advancement grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to lead an innovative effort, improving online access to digital dance resources for education and scholarship.

Rebecca Salzer
Rebecca Salzer

“While digital video makes recording dance easier, archives of recorded dance have not been made available online for education and research, and dance scholars face significant geographical and financial barriers to access,” Salzer said. “Our project brings together dance scholars, archivists, and educators for a three-day symposium during which attendees will explore expansion and aggregation of existing online dance resources along with the design of a new pilot resource.”

Despite the existence of several dance notation systems, dance remains largely an oral tradition; transferred from teacher to student and performer to performer. Film and video now serve as “text” for dance; making them key for both preservation and analysis. While the evolution of video technology has progressively made recording dance easier, methods of sharing these records have not kept pace with technologies allowing online delivery.

Dances available on video sharing and social media websites are not well organized and sometimes posted without the consent of the artist. Also, those websites usually contain only clips, rather than full-length recordings of the performance.

“Excerpts are of limited use to scholars and educators,” Salzer said. “It would be like teaching an art history class in which you could only show students one corner of a painting.”

The $50,000 grant will support a symposium at UA’s Collaborative Arts Research Initiative in May 2019, as well as presentation of the symposium’s findings to stakeholders in four major U.S. cities.  Salzer is also working with the Alabama Digital Humanities Center, which will be the project’s online home.

“I believe that our project can improve access to the digital dance resources we have and also pave the way for dance to more dynamically inhabit digital space,” Salzer said.

Her undertaking is one of 253 humanities projects recently funded by the NEH, many of which apply new technologies and digital methods to innovative humanities research and public programs. The Digital Humanities Advancement grants will also help document, preserve, and ensure access to materials of critical importance to the nation’s cultural heritage, from fragile artifacts and manuscripts to analog and digital recordings subject to technological obsolescence.