UMD: A Globally Connected University

Miriam Phillips

2810 The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
College Park, MD 20742
Work Phone: 
Expert Credentials: 

The journey of my scholarly research has paralleled my journey as a dancer. I start with movement itself as I believe that cultural knowledge is inherent within the body and contained in the compositional structures created by movers. My work as a dance ethnologist, Laban movement analyst and dance practitioner illuminates the notion of dance as embodied culture – that is, a people’s values and belief systems are embedded in their dances. Yet the process to discern these worldviews can be ambiguous since dance forms and the functions they serve in people’s lives transform across time and space in response to societal influences.

My work both explores and challenges assumptions of cultural values and meanings intrinsic in dance styles, performance spaces and the people who dance. I am engaged in three overlapping areas of investigation. First, my reflections on the kinesthetic and aesthetic comparisons between North Indian kathak and Spanish flamenco dance began when discovering similarities during years of practicing both forms. Second, performing in and working for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival led me to question the politics of representation and issues of hybridity in staged versions of traditional dance particularly in multicultural festival settings. Third, on invitation from the Yale University Art Gallery to join an interdisciplinary research project in Guinea, West Africa, I began to explore the cross-pollination process between dance in rural communities and their counterpart in nationalized staged versions, as well as the concept of performance as embodied cultural memory. In all three works I explore how dances metamorphosize into different styles, and meanings change as they traverse geographical and cultural spaces, move from one body to another, appear before one spectator to another, and in different performance contexts.  The journey continues; the work unfolds. Below is a sampling of recent word-based activities, with a few performances.

Area of Expertise: 

Dance Ethnology/Anthropology of Dance; Flamenco, Kathak, Dance of Guinea; Laban Movement Studies. Nationalism; Hybridity; Festival; Politics of Representation; Dance as Embodied Culture; Performance as Cultural Memory; Dance Transmission.

Country of Expertise: 
M.A. Dance, specialization in Dance Ethnology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1991. C.M.A. (Certified Movement Analyst), Laban/ Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, 1990. B.A. Dance, Mills College, 1981. Flamenco and kathak dance training and research with several distinguished masters in Spain and India, most notably El Farruco and his family members Los Farrucos, and Birju Maharaj with Saswati Sen (1981-present).