Histories of Corporealities and Radical, Twentieth-century Dance Performance

Submitting Institution

De Montfort University

Unit of Assessment

Music, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Performing Arts and Creative Writing
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies, Literary Studies

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Summary of the impact

Ramsay Burt's research into histories of avant-garde and experimental dance performances during the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries has facilitated cultural enrichment through its impact on choreographers, dancers, dance audiences, administrators and policy makers. His publications have advanced understanding both of the general public and members of the dance industry into the ways in which dance is affected by and influenced socially and historically specific concerns or anxieties about changing notions of embodiment. He has received invitations to speak at major international dance festivals, given interviews for radio and television broadcasts, attended meetings with policy makers, and been invited to collaborate with artists involved in making new works based on historical avant-garde performances.

Underpinning research

Since joining De Montfort in 1995, Ramsay Burt's research has focused on ways in which radical, experimental dance since 1900 has been informed by the impact of new ways of conceptualising corporeal experience. Looking both at early modern dance and ballet (1995, 1998, 2004, 2011) and more recently at so-called postmodern (2006) and conceptual dance (2009), he has identified, within contemporary reception of some of the most challenging dance works, evidence of socially and historically specific concerns or anxieties about the changing nature of corporealities. This has been supported by grants from the British Academy (2005, 2008). Such dance works, he has shown, can challenge normative ideologies — of gender, `race', and other components of identities (1995, 1998) — as the body becomes a site of resistance against ideologies and of the persistence of alternative modes of thinking, feeling and being. This research as a whole has pioneered methodologies for contextualising and analysing the social and political meanings of theatre dance.

Burt's work on dance and masculinity (1995, 2nd edn. 2007) is recognised as the standard work on the subject. His work on modernism in African American dance of the first half of the twentieth century has also been influential because of its pioneering application of ideas from critical race theory to dance studies. His research into Katherine Dunham, including interviews with her, was supported by AHRC funding (2002). He has also published research applying post-colonial theory to contemporary choreography from the last twenty years and is currently engaged in an AHRC funded research project on British Dance and the African Diaspora. With AHRC funding in 2003, he participated in Lea Anderson's re-invention with female dancers of choreography created for male dancers around 1990. He was one of the first scholars to discuss the phenomenon of re-enactments by contemporary dancers of historical avant-garde works and, through collaborations with dance artists, has had a significant impact on the way such work developed. He has also published research on re-enactment, reconstruction and reinvention by dance artists and on related discussions about the problematic of canonical accounts of dance history.

References to the research

• Burt, R. (1995/2007) The Male Dancer: Bodies, Gender, Sexualities, London: Routledge


• Burt, R. (1998) Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, `Race', and Nation in Early Modern Dance, London: Routledge


• Burt, R. (2004) 'Katherine Dunham's floating island of negritude: The Katherine Dunham Dance Company in London and Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s' in Alexandra Carter (ed.) Rethinking Dance History London and New York: Routledge, pp 94-106.

• Burt, R. (2006) Judson Dance Theater: Performative Traces, London: Routledge


• Burt, R. (2009) `History, memory, and the virtual in current European dance practice' Dance Chronicle, 32, pp. 442-467. (US-based peer reviewed journal)


• Burt, R. (2011) `Dancing bodies and modernity' in Peter Brooker, Andrzej Gasiorek and Andrew Thacker eds. The Oxford Handbook of Modernisms, Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Details of the impact

The beneficiaries of Ramsay Burt's research, outside of academia, are international communities of dancers, choreographers, dance companies, teachers, dance programmers and administrators, and those involved in funding and cultural policies, as well as those who have a general interest in dance and regularly attend dance performances and dance-related events. Through enabling a deeper and more informed historical understanding of the context of progressive contemporary dance works, this research has benefited these communities within the cultural industries and helped facilitate the cultural enrichment that they enable. Furthermore, as a result of invitations to talk about dance history both for broadcasts and at public lectures during dance and performance festivals, this research has enabled the promotion of cultural debate. His researches into African American dance in the 1920s and 30s (Burt 1998, 2004) led to his being interviewed for an episode about Josephine Baker of the BBC World Service television series Extraordinary Women (2011-12), while his research into the reception in London of performances of Nijinsky's controversial ballet Le Sacre du printemps (Burt 2011) led to an invitation to participate in the Radio 3 production Twenty Minutes (Stravinsky and the King's Horse) broadcast during an interval of the Promenade Concerts 19 July 2011, an extract from which was subsequent included in Radio 4 Pick of the Week 24 July and the whole programme broadcast again in 2012. This research also led to invitations to talk during a dance festival in Bruges in May 2013 on the centenary of the ballet. The BBC have sold the rights to the Extraordinary Women series to World Media Rights who sell the series on to the public.

Members of the dance profession, particularly those based in continental Europe, have read Burt's work (2006 in particular), and interest in it has led to invitations to take part in dance platforms and major international dance festivals and in training events for professional dancers, generally to audiences of between 30 and 60 people, but occasionally over 100. These audiences have included members of the general public and young dancers. For the Dance Umbrella 2010 festival, he was invited to contribute to a panel of choreographers showing work in the festival which led to a series of events co-curated by Ramsay Burt and choreographer Jonathan Burrows in 2012 at Siobhan Davies Studios, Sadler's Wells Theatre, and Chisenhale Dance Space. These were attended by young and older generations of dance artists, and podcasts of them are available on the website of the Siobhan Davies Studios. A slide show developed from these was installed at the 2012 Dance Umbrella Festival. His theoretical discussions of the relation between aesthetics and ethics in dance (Burt 2006, 2009) led to an invitation in April 2011 to contribute to a week-long event organised by Tanzquartier in Vienna, Scores No 3: Uneasy Going, which focused on the theme of responsibility. His published research on the topic of reenactments led to an invitation to present a paper in Ljubljana during Soking Gala Sov, 21-28th October 2009. This was a festival of reenactments and reconstructions curated by the Slovenian artists' agency Maska. He talked to Norwegian dance artists during the Oktoberdans festival organised by the Bit-Teatergarasjen in Bergen, and was twice invited to present papers during the Baltic Dance Conference as part of the 2010 and 2012 Gdansk Dance Festival. He contributed there to a round table discussion that brought together speakers, dancers, promoters and members of the Polish Ministry of Culture who wanted to know about the relation between contemporary dance in Poland and elsewhere in Europe. This led to an invitation to write an introduction to a forthcoming book published by the Ministry.

Dance artists and those involved in the dance sector attending these events have benefited from a more informed knowledge and appreciation of the histories and genealogies in which their work is situated, and a better understanding of the breadth and diversity of their practices because of the way this has informed the context in which dancers are currently working. Those who make decisions about cultural policies within the dance sector have found it useful to have a better understanding of the breadth and diversity of the practices within contemporary dance, all of this contributing to greater cultural enrichment. As part of his AHRC-funded research project British Dance and the African Diaspora Ramsay Burt and Christy Adair have been running events aimed at British-based dancers who are black that have opened up discussions about the problems in terminology (surrounding the term `Black Dance') and to meetings initiated by Burt and Adair between dancers, Arts Council representatives, producers and the chair of ADAD (the national organisation supporting black dancers) to discuss strategies for developing the sector.

As one of the first scholars to discuss the phenomenon of re-enactments by contemporary dancers of historical avant-garde works, through these dialogues and collaborations, Burt has made a significant impact on the way such work is developing. With an AHRC (peer reviewed) grant from the Changing Places scheme, he was attached to the Cholmondeleys dance company working with choreographer Lea Anderson with whom Burt worked (with AHRC support) during the research period for her 2005 work Double Take. The Brussels-based choreographer Fabián Barba invited Burt to collaborate with him on his (October 2011) new solo show A Personal Yet Collective History. This included presenting a workshop and talks in 2011 during the Workspace Brussels platform, the Amperdans Festival at Monty Theatre, Antwerp, and during a residency at Pact Zolverein arts centre in Essen. Another dancer who has engaged in extended dialogues with Burt during research for dance pieces on history and memory, or reenactments is Karen Lambaek with whom he made a joint presentation during the Tanzwerkstatt Europa festival in Munich August 2012, and participated in an artist's residency at WP Zimmer Antwerp in March 2013. A video interview with Burt evaluating the social and political significance of Tanz Aller, Ligna's re-invention of early twentieth century German movement choirs has been made and put on line by its commissioners, Tanzfonds.de, a project funded by the German Ministry of Culture as part of Tanzplan Deutschland.

In summary, Ramsay Burt's work on dance and the avant-garde (1995, 1998, 2006) has impacted on the international community of dance artists, administrators and policy makers through his talks and participation during panel discussions at festivals and related events in the UK and Europe. His work on issues concerning dance and `race' (1998, 2004) has had similar impacts on British-based dancers who are black and those in the UK involved in this sector. Lastly, through events organised as part of the British Dance and the African Diaspora project, Burt's work on history, memory, and re-enactment (2006, 2009) has been important for dance artists working in this area and has impacted on their creative processes.

Sources to corroborate the impact