Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Drama Review/ The People Have Never Stopped Dancing Review

Volume 53, Number 4, Winter 2009 (T 204)

E-ISSN: 1531-4715 Print ISSN: 1054-2043

The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories (review)

In lieu of an abstract, here is a preview of the article.

The poignant title of Jacqueline Shea Murphy's excellent and enlightening book refers to the notorious and controversial late-19th-century Ghost Dance phenomenon. Promising to invoke a peaceful end to white American expansion, the Ghost Dance, an apocryphal Christian/Native hybrid, was adapted in various guises among several Native tribes. Some Ghost dancers wore "ghost shirts" decorated with magic drawings purported to make them invulnerable to bullets—a notion of invincibility that contributed partly to the tragic death of 153 Lakota Sioux at the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre. Challenging what seemed like defeat, Shea Murphy sets up her framework by quoting "trickster lawyer" Wilson Weasel Tail's theory that "it was the Europeans, not the Native Americans that expected results overnight" (1). Shea Murphy thus initiates us into this alternative worldview of "complex understandings of time, causation, ancestral connection" (1), as opposed to the prevalent Eurocentric one of causality and finitude. By exposing them, she encourages the reader to shake off the orientalist tendencies that have gotten in the way of understanding Native American dance.

Tracing the link between government policies, anti-dance policies, and the acquisition of Indian land, Shea Murphy explores the complex role of religion in Native American dance. She alludes to transitional late-19th-century Delsartian theories—which advocated dance as a tool for accessing an inner truth, and hence de-demonizing Native dance: "movement and

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