As a part of the research programme Nordic Spaces, the project Dance in Nordic Spaces, launched October 1, 2007, aimed to investigate dance and dancing as participants in the development of “Norden”, with a focus on comparative perspectives from the late 19th through the 20th century. The project group had twelve meetings / workshops 2007–2012, and in addition, individual members had several unofficial meetings during this period.

The main principles and points of departure of the project:

  1. Analysis focused the development of nation states and national cultures, and how certain forms of dance have been used to create a national dance culture, in which national themes have been employed in dance works.

  2. Investigations were directed at the manner in which, to different extents in different dance genres, individuals and institutions have co-operated and inspired one another. In addition, it was investigated how Nordic organizations, important for the furthering of dance practices, have been established.

  3. A global perspective in the Nordic dance was identified and examined. There has been a certain influence of Russia, especially in ballet and folk dance, but also of North- and South-America in the development of modern, contemporary and jazz dance, not to mention the many forms of social dancing. Of course, the Nordic countries have always had active contacts with other European countries, and in this context it is possible to discover a certain danced, corporeal “Nordic-ness” in the Nordic region.

The project developed these ideas, sharpened the theoretical framework embracing the research, discussed different possibilities concerning methodology and searched for material to be investigated from the perspectives mentioned.

Most important results

Fields of dance

The project developed forward the ideas of the original research plan especially in relation to the concepts of field, habitus and cultural capital in Bourdieuan sense. In some instances however, the focus was directed at analyzing discourses that are active in the creation of fields of dance (e.g. action plans for dance practices and cultural policies) and additional theories were applied, highlighting the workings of discursive enunciations (e.g. Homi K. Bhabha).

Looking to various forms of dance as emerging (sub)fields of cultural production, the results of the research suggested that the Nordic context has provided important leverage in the critical phase when autonomy is established and an internal logic is articulated. An example from the material is seen in the separation of theatre dance as a field of cultural production distinct from spoken theatre, and in the way in which professional and amateur dancing has been separated from one another.

The fields of dance can be seen as being structured by power relations. The question of power is related to the questions of heritage and identity. North and Norden have been created through structural discriminations that can even be regarded as modes of racism. Identity is related to the idea of origin, but also authenticity. According to Regina Bendix, searches for authenticity have been a typical feature of feeling of loss inherent in modernization, in which believing in an intact but also endangered cultural essence has fuelled cultural nationalism worldwide.

However, the idea of authenticity and cultural essence has constantly been questioned by the diversity of modern society. One can see controversial forces in different fields attempting to define nation and Norden in various ways, thus struggling for power by definition. For example, what was defined as ‘authentic’ folk dance at the beginning of the twentieth century, was later revealed to be, at least to some extent, compositions, arrangements and modifications. However, this did not imply any destruction of folk dance field but its rearrangement. In theatrical dance, the research addresses how dancers, e.g. in the Barents region, have been able to cross over the national borders and challenge the national fields of dance, searching for transnational and transregional forms of co-operation and interaction.

Furthermore, the research analyzed different forces affecting cultural policies in Nordic countries: attempting to achieve cultural, but also economical, capital by emphasising aspects of culture, also dance. This has been explicit in different action plans written by interest organisa-tions as well as in the foundation of various national and Nordic infrastructures and networks for dance.

Process geographies in dance

For the project the global-local perspective implied a huge challenge: what has traditionally been considered local, national or Nordic, can be presented in a totally different light, when placed in a global context, and it follows that questions of heritage or ownership of dance was reconsidered and the historical context of Nordic dance reframed. This perspective was specifically useful when analyzing the arrival and reception of different foreign dance genres to the Nordic region. The Nordic region is discursively constructed in that the notion of the North (and thereby implicitly the Nordic) is endowed with meanings conjured not only through its role as the cardinal compass point and the geopolitical binary of North–South, but also through the repeated narrations of shared historical pasts, imminent presents and possible futures.

Following the postcolonial theorist Arjun Appadurai, a region may be examined as an initial context for themes that generate variable geographies. Appadurai refers to the variable and constantly shifting modes of region formation using the term ‘process geographies’, which emphasize mobile modes of human action like trade, travel and vagrancy. The main tenet of Appadurai’s theoretical framework can be found in his contrasting fluid ‘flows’ with stable ‘landscapes’. The different scapes emphasize the global flows and their impact on society and culture. Related to dance, they address how innovations are introduced through the overlapping of these flows. For example, TV and the Internet present dance phenomena from around the world, and these can be adopted and exploited by anyone using the media. Thus mediascapes can be seen as a channel for the distribution of ‘movementscapes’, as Lena Hammergen terms it. As it came up continuously during the project, the theoretical concepts of dynamic space, regions as imaginary geographies and the notions of process geography, ethnoscapes and global flows are closely interlinked with discussions of motion, movement and mobility.

Examples of process geographies, i.e. how dances change when they move from one location to the next, can be found throughout the results of the project. Folk dances in the Nordic countries are closely connected to a local geography, and during the twentieth century folk dancers created an imaginative geography of a nation. Moreover, the question of ethnicity in dance came up explicitly along with the introduction of African-American jazz dance in the Nordic countries: the discussion could vary from essential notions of black dance to psycho-physiological effects of the phenomenon, without any reference to its origin. A third example can be seen in the investigation of transnational activities in dance as co-constitutive to the emerging Barents region.

The research addressed how interconnected the Nordic countries are when flows of movement arrive to the region. Many dance forms, both participatory and theatrical, arrive more or less at the same time in the different countries, they invite similar reception patterns, they help new infrastructures and modes of employment to develop, but the imported dance forms are also changed when they enter the new environment. Thus, the dialogue between local-global results in new adaptations of movement. However there are also interesting differences found in the region. Although the logic of the welfare state constitute a shared ideological ground for cultural policies, these do not work in exact similar ways in all countries, and infrastructures are organized in different ways. Process geographies also affect the distribution of dances within the region, some-thing that has led to different regional initiatives, in which “Norden” is no longer used discursively as the common factor.

The significance of agents, institutions and cultural politics in dance

Agents, organizations, various institutions as well as cultural policies are elements in processes that aim at maintaining and strengthening the status of different dance forms as well identities connected to them. These processes consist of characteristic practices of inclusion and exclusion, through which dance is integrated to the democratic structures of the Nordic region. Particular agents and issues in dance cannot be regarded as separate and independent: they must be seen as socially and culturally constructed in order to be able to understand their meanings both in specific (local, in connection to certain dance form) but also more general (national, Nordic, global, in connection to other forms of dance and cultural phenomena) context. The research revealed how important both interest organizations, national corporations and more loosely organized networks have been in helping to form corporeal Nordic practices.

Regarding the significance of individual agents, the research aimed at addressing the correlation between the social background of the leading or most visible individuals in dance and the success in establishing dance fields. The research included investigations of how the social structures and the dancing have been situated and valued in society. Moreover, the focus has also been on reading and analyzing venues, institutions and organizations as social spaces, which have emerged through dynamic processes through time.

The political dimensions of dance and dancing have been investigated through the analysis of different interparliamentary platforms for collaboration in which arts and culture have played an important part. The focus on culture in the inter-Nordic structures reflects the standing of culture at the national level, where the postwar years also saw the beginnings of state cultural policies as an integral part of the Nordic welfare states. For obvious reasons, the increasingly diverse configuration of ethnicities and cultures in the Nordic countries since the latter decades of the 20th century has challenged this approach. However as the research addressed, in terms of the position and development of dance in cultural policies there are strong similarities among the Nordic countries, but there are differences as well, such as in how and when dance gained a space in state policies.

Finally it should be stated that the research has not only focused on established forms or infrastructures of dance or remarkable personalities. One notion was that within the expanding field of dance, dancers have reached a level of interaction which can be called ‘dancing communities’. This refers to dance groups that do not live in the same area or work together but share an interest in a specific dance genre, and they spend a lot of time and effort in order to take part in the dancing. All the dancers devote considerable resources to exercise, travel and participate in dance events, and it often consumes a good portion of their spare time.

Members of the group at their first seminar in Tampere in January 2008. From the left: Karen, Lena, Inger, Mats, Egil, Inka, Anne and Petri.

Members of the project group:

Egil Bakka, Professor, chair of the program for Dance studies, Department for Music Norwegian University for Science and Technology, Trondheim. Director Norwegian Council for Traditional Music and Dance, Trondheim.

Inger Damsholt, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Anne Fiskvik, PhD, First Amanuensis at program for Dance studies, Department for Music NTNU, Trondheim. Previous career as dancer and choreographer, Fulbright scholarship (New York University) 2006/2007, leader of the Norwegian National Advisory Board on Dance in Education (Nasjonalt fagråd i dans).

Lena Hammergren, PhD, Associate Professor, Department for Musicology and Performance Studies, Stockholm University, and Professor, University College of Dance, Stockholm.

Petri Hoppu, PhD, Project Manager, Adjunct Professor in Dance Studies, School of Social Science and Humanities, University of Tampere.

Inka Juslin (former Välipakka), PhD, Post-Doc Researcher, School of Social Science and Humanities, University of Tampere. Dance artist (contemporary choreographer-dancer).

Mats Nilsson, PhD, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Ethnology, University of Gothenburg and University College of Dance, Stockholm.

Karen Vedel, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen.