Choreographing Diversity and Identity
My experience as a visiting fellow at ERCCT
I had the pleasure and honor to be selected as a visiting fellow at the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT) from June 16th to July 15th, 2014. During my stay in Tübingen, I had wonderful research, teaching, and cultural exchange experiences. In addition to participating in the centre’s academic activities, most notably the regularly held “Taiwan Colloquium,” I also took part in the “Spotlight Taiwan” as a performer and lecturer.
In the “Taiwan Colloquium,” I presented part of my dissertation research. My dissertation is entitled: “Flirting with Global Citizenship: the Construction of Gender, Class, and National Identity in Taiwanese Salsa.” It traces a genealogy of corporeal conformity in Taiwanese/Chinese culture. By examining the genealogy of conformity in Taiwan, I investigate how salsa provides a semi-sanctioned space for rule-breaking in Taiwan. I assert that Taiwanese salsa practitioners engage in temporary, erotically charged relationships with salsa dance as a foreign product. Salsa therefore allows them to imagine a future belonging to a global citizenship rooted in Western modernity. I argue that Taiwanese salsa practitioners embody exoticism and eroticism as an alternative strategy to working within, and against, dominant Chinese norms that mandate a highly sedate and regulated use of the body. This research introduces dance studies to East Asian and Taiwanese/Chinese research by examining identity construction and bodily conformity in Taiwanese dance.
At the “Spotlight Taiwan,” I gave a public talk entitled: “Choreographing diversity and identity: Contemporary Dance in Taiwan.” This lecture looked at contemporary dance in Taiwan, and emphasized the aesthetical trends of the new generation of Taiwanese choreographers. I compared the new generation of choreographers in Taiwan—Chou Shu-Yi周書毅, Su Wen-Chi蘇文琪, and Huang Yi黃翊 — with the renowned dance company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan雲門舞集. I showed several video clips from those artists to accompany my talk, allowing me to illustrate how dance negotiates complex philosophical challenges and choices, and thus can be read as politics. The audience enjoyed and engaged with my talk, laughing at my little jokes and asking questions throughout. I took great pleasure in the fact that I was able to offer the audience a stimulating lecture.
At the end of the talk, I performed a dance that I choreographed. This performance was my response to the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan during early 2014. I selected several high quality and artistic photos that were taken during Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement. I projected those photos onto my body and a white sheet that I waved beside me. The sheet was separate from my body, indicating a distanced violation falling upon me, since I was in Los Angeles when the movement happened. It was totally dark in the room; I turned the lecture hall/classroom into an alternative theatrical space, where later I only relied on a desk lamp to guide my way. This use of lighting referenced how a phenomenologist philosophers would approach the world through their desk and showed that how I, as a scholar, exposed myself to artistic creation by using desk lamp. Through this non-theatrical light, I created an aura of this piece. This piece came into being to help mediate the alienation of rights and of virtual participation. While the topic of this piece was aggressive and politically sensitive, the visual effect was poetic and empathic. In the Q & A section at the end of this talk and performance, I got many fruitful and curious responses. I was glad to raise consciousness of this issue outside Taiwan.
In addition to this contemporary performance, I also performed a “Dai Dance”傣族舞 piece in the ERCCT “Spotlight Taiwan” opening ceremony. I suggested this Chinese folkdance practice is a vivid example to demonstrate the Chinese Nationalist’s ruling history in Taiwan since the 1950s . Through this dance example, I have addressed the ways in which bodily movement engages with issues of national, colonial, and post-colonial identities. In conjunction with this “Dai dance” performance, I also initiated a “Dai Dance” workshop at Tübingen University in late June. In this workshop, I employed experiential learning to trouble notions of the "authentic" and "traditional" in Chinese dance, as well as the idea of national identity constructed through Chinese dance in both China and Taiwan. There were about 20 people, including of both genders and of multiple ethnicities, who participated in the workshop. There was also a good amount of group discussion and dance training. My teaching method combined critical thinking with dance training, allowing participants to move intellectually.
Right before I left Tübingen, I witnessed the signing ceremony for ERCCT to become Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation Overseas Center. In celebration of the inauguration of this cooperation, a symposium was held on the Castle of Hohentübingen in Tübingen. Participants were famous Taiwan scholars from all over Europe, as well as from the US. I was happy to see ERCCT’s vibrant activeness in various international exchanges culturally, politically, artistically, and academically.
There were so many interesting and unexpected things going on during my stay in Tübingen . Overall, this was a unique experience for me to be in Tubingen for one month. As a scholar who works in a growing new discipline, it was quite an honor for me to share my insights about dance to other academics. I highly appreciated the ERCCT for giving me this opportunity.
ERCCT Spotlight Taiwan event information: www.ercct.uni-tuebingen.de/spotlight.taiwan/
- I gave a talk “Choreographing diversity and identity: Contemporary Dance in Taiwan” during the Spotlight Taiwan program. Courtesy to the ERCCT.
- My performance in responds to current Taiwan social movement: photos projections on my body. Courtesy to ERCCT.
- The Dai Dance workshop. Courtesy to the ERCCT.
I-Wen Chang is a Culture and Performance Ph.D. candidate in the department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at the University of California, Los Angeles. She holds an MA degree in Art Theory and Criticism from the Taipei National University of the Arts. She has worked as a freelance writer specializing in arts coverage, dance, and culture since 2007. Her articles can be seen in Performing Arts Review Magazine表演藝術雜誌, Artist Magazine 藝術家雜誌, and Performing Arts Forum劇場閱讀. I-Wen’s research interests are phenomenology, dance aesthetics, and the body politics of gender/national/class identity in salsa dance. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org, and her personal website is iwenchang.weebly.com/
1 Chinese folkdance was introduced during the 1950s in Taiwan. After the KMT (Kuomintang of China; Chinese Nationalist Party) lost its ruling support from mainland China and retreated to Taiwan, the KMT still aimed to present itself as the sole and legitimate ‘China’ in the geopolitical world. The government claimed to revive authentic Chinese culture in Taiwan. Since 1954, the government has launched the “Folkdance Promotion Committee” complete with several national “Chinese” folkdance contests. From the 1950s to the 1980s, numerous Taiwanese choreographers, who may have never been to China (it was not until 1987 that the Taiwanese are allowed to travel to China), started to create imagined authentic Chinese folkdance in support of the government policy. Since then, “Chinese” folkdance has become part of the Taiwanese dance scene and has been part of curriculum in professional dance education in Taiwan. Of course, as a nostalgic imaginary, the idea of “authenticity” in Chinese folkdance has been challenged in Taiwan.
2 For example, I joined a neuroscience experiment at Max-Planck-Institut für Biologische Kybernetik, where I was equipped with sensors on my body while dancing to conduct research about neuroscience and partner dance