Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Vol. 29, No. 4, Fall 2009, pp. 338-339
In this fascinating, ambitious, and wellresearched book, dance scholar Jacqueline Shea Murphy analyzes three main topics. First she compares the history of U.S. and Canadian government attempts to suppress or transform Indigenous dance between the 1880s and the 1930s and charts the persistence of Native American dance in the face of such pressures. In the second section, she examines how modern dance pioneers such as Ted Shawn and Martha Graham infused modern dance with Indigenous themes. Although Shawn and Graham visited Indian peoples and observed their dance traditions, they ultimately made primitivist use of Indian materials for their own purposes and did not engage meaningfully with Indian worldviews, religions, or political concerns. This section also recovers early Native American choreographers, including Jose Limon and Tom Two Arrows. In the final portion of the book, Murphy explores how Indigenous dance companies use contemporary modern dance as a "tool for spiritual and cultural resilience and self-determination."
Murphy's methodology is comprehensive and perhaps unique. She carries out careful archival research but also engages in significant participatory research. In her attempt to avoid the "troublesome dynamics" of the early modern dancers, she attends Indigenous dance workshops, productions, and events and interviews Indigenous dancers and choreographers. Her focus on restrictions on the Sun Dance as well as Plains Indian participation in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show will particularly interest readers of Great Plains Quarterly.