Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica

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Editor's Overview

In the November 2002 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Deborah A. Thomas explores the intersections among arts institutions, cultural representation, and nationalist politics. Her article “Democratizing Dance: Institutional Transformation and Hegemonic Re-Ordering in Postcolonial Jamaica,” is a study of the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, an institution founded by Rex Nettleford and Eddy Thomas in the early 1960s that, at independence, was part of a larger national movement to reposition Jamaican arts and culture away from Eurocentric frames and towards indigenous ones. The stakes inherent in this mission become clear as she traces the company's historical trajectory over the years from indendence to the late 1990s, analyzing its development in relation to shifts in Jamaica's political economy. Thomas charts the meaningful institutional webs that the company's founders and its first generations built and highlights the ways in which the arts institution became increasingly (though not unproblematically) embedded in wider national, regional, and international structures for support, promotion, and sustenance. She also describes the gaps between generations of company members in their understandings of what it meant to belong to the company, of the meaning of its service-oriented mission and ethic of volunteerism, and of the basis for its “indigenous” cultural repertoire, foregrounding the ways in which articulations of class and gender abraded against the democratizing impulse of Jamica's founding “creole multiracial nationalist” project. Given these themes, “Democratizing Dance” will be of particular interest to scholars in Caribbean and African diaspora studies, as well as scholars with interests in performance, nationalism, globalization, and cultural politics.

Deborah A. Thomas (Ph.D. New York University 2000) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica (Duke University Press, 2004) and co-editor of the volume Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2006) with Kamari Clarke. Thomas has also co-edited a special issue of the journal Identities with Karla Slocum, entitled “Caribbeanist Anthropologies at the Crossroads,” and their co-authored “Caribbean Studies, Anthropology, and U.S. Academic Realignments” appears in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture and Society Volume 10, Issue 2 (2008). Thomas is currently co-editing a special issue of Feminist Review on diaspora with Tina Campt and is editor of the journal Transforming Anthropology. She is currently conducting research projects on violence and transnational labor migration.

In the past, Cultural Anthropology has published articles on the relationship among nationalism, the arts, and political economy. See, for example, Jessica Winegar's “Cultural Sovereignty in a Global Art Economy: Egyptian Cultural Policy and the New Western Interest in Art from the Middle East” (2006), Andrew Willford's “The 'Already Surmounted' yet 'Secretly Familiar:' Malaysian Identity as Symptom” (2006), and Molly H. Mullin's “The Patronage of Difference: Making Indian Art 'Art, Not Ethnology'” (1992).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of articles on dance and cultural politics. See, for example, Öykü Potuoğlu-Cook's “Beyond the Glitter: Belly Dance and Neoliberal Gentrification in Istanbul” (2006), Clare A. Ignatowski's “Multipartyism and Nostalgia for the Unified Past: Discourses of Democracy in a Dance Association in Cameroon” (2004), Susan A. Reed's “Performing Respectability: The Beravā, Middle-Class Nationalism, and the Classicization of Kandyan Dance in Sri Lanka” (2002), and Sally A. Ness' “Originality in the Postcolony: Choreographing the Neoethnic Body of Philippine Ballet” (1997).

Links from the Essay

Rex Nettleford

Nettleford, Rex.1969. Roots and Rhythms: Jamaica's National Dance Theatre. London: Andre Deutsch. 

1970. Mirror, Mirror: Identity, Race and Protest in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Collins-Sangster. 

1978. Caribbean Cultural Identity: The Case of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Institute of Jamaica. 

1985. Dance Jamaica: Cultural Definition and Artistic Discovery: The National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica, 1962-1983. New York: Grove Press.

National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica

Garth Fagan Dance

Jackie Guy's Body of Experience

Multimedia Links

Christopher Morrison, choreographer and former dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica

Organizational Links

Association of Dance of the African Diaspora

Related Scholarly Work

Brodber, Erna, 1987. Black Consciousness and Black Popular Music in the 1960s and 1970s. New West Indian Guide 61(3-4): 145-160. 

Carnegie, Charles, 1996. The Dundus and the Nation. Cultural Anthropology 11(4):470-509. 

Chatterjee, Partha, 1991. Nationalism: A Derivative Discourse? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ----------------------1993. The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Harrison, Faye, 1988 Women in Jamaica's Urban Informal Economy: Insights from a Kingston Slum. New West Indian Guide 62(3-4): 103-128.

Hobsbawm, Eric, and Terence Ranger, eds., 1983. The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Waters, Anita, 1985 Race, Class, and Political Symbols: Rastafari and Reggae in Jamaican Politics. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books. 

Williams, Brackette, 1991. Stains on My Name. War in My Veins: Guyana and the Politics of Cultural Struggle. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

 --------------------------- 1993. The Impact of the Precepts of Nationalism on the Concept of Culture: Making Grasshoppers of Naked Apes. Cultural Critique 24( 1): 143-191.

Author's Other Work

Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica (Duke University Press, 2004)

Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2006), edited with Kamari Clarke

Author Publicity

Deborah A. Thomas and John Jackson

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