A glossary of terminology relevant to the study of dance in world cultures. All participants in the course are able to add terms to the list. Students are encouraged to post multiple definitions of terms. Please be sure to cite the sources of all definitions posted.



"Dance is a transient mode of expression, performed in a given form and style by the human body moving in space. Dance occurs through purposefully selected and controlled rhythmic movements; the resulting phenomenon is recognized as dance both by the performer and the observing members of a given group." Joann Kealiinohomoku, p. 38 in Moving Histories/Dancing Cultures

"an expression of the choreographer's and participants' knowledge of human feelings, ideas, life, and the universe." Drid Williams, p. 22, Anthropology and the Dance

Social Evolutionism

Referenced in on p.24-25 of Drid Williams's Anthropology and the Dance

"Social Evolutionism refers to 19th century Anthropological theories of social development whereby societies are thought to start out in a primitive state and gradually become more civilized over time. In this context, primitive is associated with animalistic behaviour; while civilization is associated with 19th century European culture.
Social Evolutionism is related to Social_Darwinism">Social Darwinism, and represents the earliest form of theories of Cultural evolution." (accessed 2/8/09)

Logical Positivism

Referenced on p. 37 of Drid Williams's Anthropology and the Dance

"Logical positivism (also called logical empiricism and neo-positivism) is a school of philosophy that combines empiricism, the idea that observational evidence is indispensable for knowledge of the world, with a version of rationalism incorporating mathematical and logico-linguistic constructs and deductions in epistemology.[1]" (accessed 2/8/09)


Referenced on p. 38 of Drid Williams's Anthropology and the Dance

"Behaviorism or Behaviourism, also called the learning perspective (where any physical action is a behavior) is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things which organisms do  including acting, thinking and feelingâ€â€can and should be regarded as behaviors.Skinner1984_0-0" class="reference">[1] The school of psychology maintains that behaviors as such can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as the mind.[2] Behaviorism comprises the position that all theories should have observational correlates but that there are no philosophical differences between publicly observable processes (such as actions) and privately observable processes (such as thinking and feeling).[3]" (accessed 2/8/09)


War dances and initiation/puberty dances from various cultures are described as "disciplined rehearsals of what their societies teach them about how to deal with their own fears, killing enemies, courage, and such...(and) disciplined rehearsals of socially sanctioned attitudes toward sexual maturity and adult responsibility." Drid Williams, p. 23 in Anthropology and the Dance


"The term "emic," coined by linguist Kenneth Pike in the late 1940s, became an appropriate word to describe the view of someone "inside" a cultural system." Peggy Vissicaro, p. 24 in Studying Dance Cultures Around the World

Personal Emic

The personal emic is the unique set of ideas, values and experiences that affect how a person makes sense of a situation. The personal emic is cultural knowledge, but each person within a culture has a somewhat different personal emic based on his/her individual set of life experiences.
(In this class, we talk about a personal emic specific to dance, that draws especially (but not exclusively) a person's prior experiences with dance.)
Kristin Horrigan, based on Peggy Vissicaro, p.24 in Studying Dance Cultures Around the World


describes "a framework derived from outside a specific cultural system"
Peggy Vissicaro, p. 25 in Studying Dance Cultures Around the World


"The sameness of a person or thing at all times or in all circumstances; the condition or fact that a person or thing is itself and not something else; individuality, personality." Oxford English Dictionary (edition?)

Cultural Imperialism

One example: "A Western form, in which these elements from other cultures have been inserted to make it more interesting, give it a twist, or pay homage to something that an artist has been taken with." Marcia B Siegel/ On Multiculturality and Authenticity (page?)


When an individual with ties to a minority group views a work created by others in that same minority group, that individual has certain expectations about what kinds of ideas that work might express and what kind of performer should be participating in the presentation of that work. An audience member with racial/ethnic minority status might be offended to witness the performance if the dancers appear to be racially diverse, not because that audience member is necessarily racist, but because of that same sense of entitlement. He or she might feel as though there is something special or sacred about belonging to the minority group in question, and he/she might feel disrespected to witness the involvement of someone who does not also belong to that group.


Trimillos claims that most western audiences, when viewing what they believe to be an “ethnic/cultural/authentic†dance performance, will notice if a musician or performer is not racially (or otherwise physically) similar to the other performers. The involvement of the “outsider†will throw off the focus and perception of the audience because that audience was not necessarily anticipating to be challenged in that way.


A cultural fascination with the idea of other cultures/ When a Western culture turns its attentions to another culture, copying and comodifying its customs and traditions relating to spirituality and worship, song and dance, and uniform to name a few. It is important to remember that these are not anthropological studies or cultural exchanges, by any means. The emphasis here is on the otherness of the non-Western customs.

Political Correctness
to be morally sensitized in actions. This trend began in the late 80s and early 90s, following the "multiculturalism" wave, where it was rude and crass to not try and appease to all races. Many famous examples of acts of political correctness (PC) are the switching of accepted ethnic categorization (Indian was to be substituted with Native American, Black with African-American, etc). Referenced in Looking Out, page 18.

Simply put, the discrimination of a person or people based the categorization known as race (separation primarily based on skin color).

Inverse Racism
The opposite of racism, where one race receives benefits based solely on the categorization of people based primarily on skin color. The primary example of inverse racism would be the affirmative actionin the U.S. in the late 20th century in order to "right the wrongs" of slavery.

Historical Authenticity
Authenticity of form/canon of dance style used. A dance style is seen as historically authentic if it has a canon of movement and is a form that can be distinguished, even throughout the years. A change in or addition to the canon is not necessarily inauthentic as it shows that, with time, new ideals and theories are placed within the dance style, allowing for change (a form of functional authenticity). This change is inevitable and aid in the style's authenticity because the wave of change does not render the dance style completely foreign. Referenced from Looking Out, page 31.

Functional Authenticity
Changing and modifying a dance style to make it relevant. When a dance style transcends trends and fads and endures many years, there will be a wave of new thinkers and performers in the style. This wave creates change because each new thought and idea creates a new way to move within the dance style. This can bring about a change in the original canon and in the original appeal of the form. However, all of this is needed in order to help the dance translate to a new audience. The dance form becomes authentic because it is still distinguishable and relatable. When a form does not change, or when it is performed in its "original format", it is no longer seen as authentic because it is no longer seen as relatable by its new audience. Referenced from Looking Out, page 31.

The act of emersing oneself into a culture not originally belonging to that person. This can be seen as dabbling, or indulging in a culture for a shallow experience and is most often not a temprary settlement. Referenced in Looking Out, page 33.

a radical condensing of a dance style or performance in order to make it appealing to a foreign audience.

Noble savage

Representative of a primitive mankind, used to describe an elemental person with less "civilization" or someone who has seemingly been uncorrupted by societal influences. Pure in culture, other.
(expanded from definition available in the Oxford English dictionary)

Cultural Colonialism

Similar (and certainly related) to concepts of "Cultural Imperialism" and "Exoticism", yet different in that Cultural Colonialism often refers to the process or result of artistic exploitation. The terms are understood differently in particular discourses. Cultural imperialism can refer to either the forced acculturation of a subject population, or to the voluntary embracing of a foreign culture by individuals who do so of their own free will. Cultural Colonialism has been associated with the practice of promoting, distinguishing, separating, or artificially injecting the culture or language of one culture into another. It is usually the case that the former belongs to a large, economically or militarily powerful nation and the latter belongs to a smaller, less important one. Cultural imperialism can take the form of an active, formal policy or a general attitude. The term is usually used in a pejorative sense, usually in conjunction with a call to reject foreign influence. As related to dance, Cultural Colonialists may be the appropriate term for those that profit, not necessarily monetarily, but profit none-the-less from exposure to a particular culture. (Influenced by Levi as response to TOMLINSON, John, Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction, Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
(available on wikipedia) )

Artistic Hegemony

Hegemony is a word most often used in the context of colonialism and refers to the domination of one entity, usually a nation or empire, over a variety of other states and communities in many different ways. Artistic hegemony is when one artistic tradition from the dominant culture is celebrated as vastly superior to any other artistic traditions (ballet would be an example of this phenomenon). (my definition)


According to David Gere, "The word 'multiculturalism' is an all-inclusive term that means, literally,'many cultures.' In common practice, however, it refers exclusively to people of color, to gays and lesbians, to any group that does not belong to the straight white majority." (Looking Out, pg 4)
Multiculturalists are people who promote the awareness of many cultures, although they and their motivations could be viewed as cynically as the term multiculturalism is above. Another facet of multiculturalism is the assumption that there is no cultural hierarchy. (my definition)

Cultural Equity

Treating all cultures fairly and putting them on equal footing. Not making cultural value judgments.

Ethnic Dance

Technically, all dance is ethnic because all dance stems from a specific culture and ethnic background, but the term itself has been used to refer to all non-Western dance and is today mainly used as a pejorative term. (An Anthropologist Looks at Ballet as a Form of Ethnic Dance, pg 39 and my own definition)

World Dance

A term used to replace ethnic dance, meant to be less pejorative, but problematic for the same reasons. World dance is used to describe non-Western dance forms, which would seem to suggest that Western dance was somehow not of the world. Literally, world dance would include every kind of dance in the world. (my definition)


According to Deborah Jowitt, "Everything outside myself is Other, but some Others are more alien than other Others, and familiarity often comes on little cat feet where we least expect it." (Looking Out, pg 181)
Another definition that seems to be largely shared by the other contributors to "Looking Out" is that the Other is non-Western.


Adjusting a dance to fit a particular stage (figuratively or literally) and audience, to make it more appealing to them.

Kelly's definitions:


Often associated with religious practices and beliefs, a ritual is a spiritual performance of some kind that can be performed by any number of people, often in a group setting, but not necessarily. A ritual is connected to tradition, with the implication that many different practitioners have performed the ritual in the same way, or approximately the same way, in the past. (my definition)

A ritual is a set of repeated actions, often thought to have symbolic value, the performance of which is usually prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community by religious or political laws because of the perceived efficacy of those actions. (Wikipedia)

1. an established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.
2. a system or collection of religious or other rites.
3. observance of set forms in public worship.
4. a book of rites or ceremonies.
5. a book containing the offices to be used by priests in administering the sacraments and for visitation of the sick, burial of the dead, etc.
6. a prescribed or established rite, ceremony, proceeding, or service: the ritual of the dead.
7. prescribed, established, or ceremonial acts or features collectively, as in religious services.
8. any practice or pattern of behavior regularly performed in a set manner.
9. a prescribed code of behavior regulating social conduct, as that exemplified by the raising of one's hat or the shaking of hands in greeting.
10. Psychiatry. a specific act, as hand-washing, performed repetitively to a pathological degree, occurring as a common symptom of obsessive-compulsive neurosis.

Generally, an often-repeated pattern of behaviour which is performed at appropriate times, and which may involve the use of symbols. Religion is one of the main social fields in which rituals operate, but the scope of ritual extends into secular and everyday life as well.
The Durkheimian approach (The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, 1912) makes a strong distinction between the sacred and the profane and locates rituals firmly in the former category. For Durkheimians, rituals create social solidarity, which is necessary to hold society together. Durkheim reduced ritual to social structure since he asserted that, through rituals, people correctly represent to themselves the pattern of relations in society. For Durkheim, the unit of significance in ritual is action, since action causes beliefs, not vice versa. Durkheim thus accorded to ritual a primary epistemological roleâ€â€insisting that the necessary building-blocks of thought are transmitted through the shared ‘effervescence’ of ritual.
The Marxist approach to ritual, by contrast, proposes that rituals transmit only false consciousness. They mystify their participants by misrepresenting the pattern of social relations in the society (see, for example, M. Bloch , From Blessing to Violence, 1986).
Van Gennep wrote that a person is not just born into society, but has to be re-created through rites of passage as a social individual, and accepted into society. He outlined three stages in such rites, which transform the social identity of the initiand: separation, or the detaching of an individual from his or her former status; liminality, where the initiand is in ‘limbo’, having been detached from the old status but not yet attached to the new; and reincorporation, in which the passage from one status to another is consummated symbolically.
A common criticism of sociological interpretations of ritual is that analysts have merely imposed their own meaning on the events. G. Lewis (Day of Shining Red, 1980) argues that the search for meaning in rites outweighs the concern for what people may feel about them; that is, the emotional aspects. Thus rituals become like crossword puzzlesâ€â€to be decoded in the hands of anthropologists and sociologists. Lewis argues that rituals must be understood in the terms of the participants' own meanings as well as those of the analyst. (A Dictionary of Sociology at

"... the use of the part to signify the whole." (Washabaugh, William. Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture. Pg. 7. Washington D.C.: Berg 1996)

Musical Metonym
"A musical behavior that is part of politics. Musical metonyms are behaviors that rehearse politics, operating wherever music walks people through a course of action that has the potential of channelling interests and resolving quarrels. Via metonymical action, bodies inadvertantly do politics while enjoying music. Unlike metaphors, which operate always from a distance, metonyms practice politcs by proximity and contact, and, crucially, the contact is muscular not mental, bodily not conceptual." (Washabaugh, William. Flamenco: Passion, Politics, and Popular Culture. Pg. 7. Washington D.C.: Berg 1996)

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MsoNormal">Third World

MsoNormal">Having taken comparative politics classes, I can say that the term Third World is generally given to nation-states that are low or underdeveloped, in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on a whole and per capita, Purchasing Power Parity of the currency (how well one can subsist) and Human Development Index (HDI), which generally covers areas such as health, education, etc. From Wikipedia, the term was coined by Alfred Sauvy. Also, an economist, Peter Bauer, claims that the term only really shows those nation-states that request Western aid, since Third World countries have countries on both sides of the spectrum in terms of economy and education.


MsoNormal">Popular Culture

MsoNormal">The state of living where mass media effects various aspects of life, from clothing, consumption, language, leisure activities, etc. Popular culture actually was used as a negative term for everyone who was not in high society. It wasn’t until more recently has the term been switched to refer to a widespread community. Popular culture, today, still clashes with other ways of living (high-class, religious, scientific, etc.) and is often seen as simplified and superficial. I understand this because pop culture has to be “generalizable†so that everyone can relate to it. The simpler it is, the easier it is to understand and follow. (Wikipedia and personal knowledge)



MsoNormal">In terms of this class, patriarchy is used in its more anthropological connotation.

MsoNormal">1. A form of social organization in which the father or oldest male is the head of the family, and descent and relationship are reckoned through the male line; government or rule by a man or men.

MsoNormal">2. The predominance of men in positions of power and influence in society, with cultural values and norms being seen as favoring men.

MsoNormal">The opposite of patriarchy is matriarchy, where women assume the head roles. Patriarchy influences every aspect of family and social life since it determines where the power is and who can achieve power through marriage. (definitions taken from OED)



MsoNormal">From what I found online (Oxford-English Dictionary)

MsoNormal">1. Tendency to, or practice of, regional systems or methods; localism on a regional basis. Also, on a national or international scale: the theory or practice of regional rather than central systems of administration, or of economic, cultural, or political affiliation; the study of such phenomena as they relate to geographic factors.

MsoNormal">Also, it is easy to see how this is just a branching off of other “isms†involving perceptions of others. In a region, there can be a specific culture unique to the rest of the country and the culture may want to retain its heritage (language, literature, dance, etc.) Therefore, instead of following the national system, a region may actually create its own government. This can be seen in China and Siberia.



MsoNormal">In general, the idea that what one purports to be true and right is superior to the agenda of others, therefore a hierarchy is placed based on a common characteristic. This term is usually modified by gender, since male chauvinism is a more familiar term.


An act that brings something into existence that didn’t exist before. Examples would be dances that bring about a new circumstance, such as initiation dances among others.


“Rejecting the search for the origins and authenticity of the colonized in order to concentrate on the specific, original, and authentic ways in which imperialism operates.†(Savigliano, pg. 9. This is only one of her definitions.)


Different parts of the body keep different rhythms at the same time. Polyrhythm is often accompanied by polycentrism, which is when there is more than one center of the body operating at a time. For example, a movement may be generated in the hips at the same time that a different movement is generated from the shoulders.


Sec*ta"ri*an*ism\, n. The quality or character of a sectarian; devotion to the interests of a party; excess of partisan or denominational zeal; adherence to a separate church organization. (
The article that introduces this word, Part of the Problem by Joan Acocella in Looking Out, presents sectarianism as a negative interpretation of multiculturalism that separates all people into subgroups, race and nationality being among the frequent criteria. By separating people into these subgroups, it is automatically assumed that they cannot relate to anyone outside of their group, thereby defeating the intent behind multiculturalism.