Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Dancing Within Taiwanese-ness: International Folk Dancing Communities in Taiwan and California
by Wu, Wei-Chi, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside, 2018, 224; 10935353
Abstract (Summary)

This research investigates Taiwanese dancers’ practice of international folk dancing through interviews and participant-observation. International folk dancing is a specific dance genre, in which its practitioners explore various regional folk dances around the world, regardless of their ethnicities. I define this practice as a transnational embodiment, because it not only covers folk dances from different countries, but also was a government-sanctioned exercise during the Taiwanese Martial Law Period (1945-1987). Furthermore, many Taiwanese immigrants in California are still practicing this dance for the purpose of connecting with people with similar backgrounds. In this regard, international folk dancing is a historical product from Taiwan’s Martial Law Period, and it also functions as an instrument to scrutinize some Taiwanese immigrants’ conceptions of national and cultural identity in California.

My dissertation starts from post-World War II Taiwan, when international folk dancing was introduced from the United States and became a mass exercise of the Taiwanese people during Martial Law. For the National Government at this time, international folk dancing was a means of presenting Taiwan’s political alignment with the United States. For the Taiwanese people, however, this dance form was a way to understand the outside world under extreme limitations on information access outside Taiwan during Martial Law. My investigation then shifts to Taiwanese immigrants’ current practice of international folk dancing in California. Though these immigrants do not limit their practice to Taiwan-specific dances and are embodying cultures of others, international folk dancing is a strong transnational embodiment that enables these Taiwanese immigrants to reconstruct their idea of home in the United States and to present a new definition of Taiwanese identity through practicing others’ nationalisms.

Furthermore, I demonstrate that Taiwanese dancers of different generations in both regions are constantly constructing the notions of “folk” and “international” through their diverse living and dancing experiences. I argue that international folk dancing challenges these concepts when compared to previous scholars’ examinations. Additionally, this dance form demonstrates its practitioners’ cultural awareness that even though the practice seems to be inclusive, its dancers are much aware of issues of authenticity, appropriation, and cross-cultural politics. Finally, this sub-genre of self-choreographed dancing indicates a Taiwanized international folk dancing practice. Self-choreographed dancing was developed by the Taiwanese international folk dancing community during the Martial Law Period, and in California, it is practiced more in the Taiwanese international folk dancing groups but is missing in Western dancers’ community. As this sub-genre stretches the ideas of “folk,” “international,” and the sense of cultural awareness, the dissertation also explores this difference between Taiwanese and Western international folk dancing communities to emphasize the notion of Taiwanese-ness.

International folk dancing serves to scrutinize relationships between Taiwan and the United States after World War II. Meanwhile, California-based Taiwanese immigrants apply their past dancing memories to their current practice of international folk dancing, suggesting new definitions to existing conceptions of Taiwanese identity. Moreover, the unstableness in the dance form’s translations in Mandarin Chinese—tu-feng-wu or shi-jie min-su wu-dao—indicates that there is no consistent understanding of “folk,” “international,” and even “international folk dancing” itself. The lack of coherent translation furthermore signals varied interpretations of Taiwanese-ness by Taiwanese people from different places and of different generations.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kraut, Anthea
Commitee: Baik, Crystal, Reynoso, Jose L.
School: University of California, Riverside
Department: Critical Dance Studies
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 80/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Cultural anthropology, Asian Studies, Dance
Keywords: International folk dance, Shi-jie min-su wu-dao, Taiwanese martial law, Taiwanese-ness, Transnational embodiment, Tu-feng-wu
Publication Number: 10935353
ISBN: 978-0-438-64034-4
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