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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
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Animated, Summer 1998. It takes time and leg-work to find people, meet with them and talk but it is increasingly important to give more voice to participants who so often provide more objective views of our work. Ruth Trueman reflects
Sometimes I read about community dance and wonder why there isn't more written by participants. It is difficult to get community dancers to put pen to paper, but when they do their thoughts are very revealing. Recently, I did some research on the notion of self esteem and performance (1) and found that the dancers had a series of complex responses to the changes that occurred to them during the rehearsal and performance process. I then began to question the methodology of my research, wondering why I didn't start it with a more 'client based' approach.

Emic and Etic
In anthropological writing, sometimes referred to as ethnography, there is a distinction between an emic (insider) and etic (outsider) approach to collecting information from field-work. These terms are useful as they encapsulate a number of factors specific to fieldwork and fieldwork aims. Emic analyses are, therefore, those which stress the subjective meanings shared by a social group... whilst etic analysis refers to the development and application of models derived from the analyst's theoretical and formal categories. (2)

Seymour-Smith points out that the distinction between emic and etic is never clear as ethnographers tend to use a combination of methods but there does seem to be a clear difference in the emphasis of the approach. This is where methodology becomes political and echoes a number of implicit values of community arts practice. There is a degree of fascism to the etic approach where the fieldworker analyses a community dance activity from his or her own standpoint. It reminds me of the community artist who meets a new client group determined to do a dance piece about an issue that the group has no interest in. There is a sense of democracy and equality about the emic approach. The researcher begins an analytical process from the starting point of those being analysed, surely this is giving value and worth to those being written about. Even if researchers cannot free themselves of their ethnocentrism, they can at least put their own views and or ideas into the background. This agrees with the community arts notion of partnership, consultation and client ownership.

Self Esteem
I started my examination into self esteem with two ideas: first that there was a link between performance and increased self esteem in community dancers and second that self esteem was important to people. I interviewed a number of community dance performers to test the relationship between performance and self esteem and took Maslow's well-known model of the Hierarchy of Needs (3) to establish the importance of self esteem. However, as this demonstrates, I was basing the methodology on what I had already noticed, what I was interested in and what I already had ideas about. This is an etic approach.

In defence of the etic, it is difficult to start research without a question. Often the best writing comes from those who have a passion to find the 'answer' to some paradox or, in this case, some clear evidence for a well-accepted idea. Even if this does not excuse this approach, the 'emic factor' began its influence on the research very quickly when I came to interview participants.

Questionnaires and interviews can be 'closed' and can direct the respondent to answer the researcher's questions and leave little room for new perspectives. A more open interview technique allows the interviewee to talk about what they have found and the issues they are currently considering. In this way the researcher can not only gain information from the insider but also the context of the insider's point of view. (This sounds great but the pitfalls are that the researcher can find that they have as many viewpoints as interviewees and that their research has lost its focus altogether.)

I started interviewing, attempting to be 'open'. I became particularly interested in a woman called Silvana who had performed a major role in an interdisciplinary project in a large theatre in Spokane, Washington in 1997. Silvana's life changed a great deal after the performance (for the better) and I was interested in how much she attributed her gain in self-confidence to the performance. The results concerning self esteem are not relevant here but what is significant is that Silvana revealed a degree of objectivity about the process of her development and the key factors in this progression which no fieldworker could ever have observed: "I did something I never thought I would be able to do. No one can take that away from me. I did it." (4) Despite the politics, theory and rhetoric I subscribe to, I found myself surprised at how self knowing the participants were, how insightful and how observant. Some of my starting points had been useful, whilst some were completely irrelevant to the experiences of the performers. Seymour-Smith was right then - you have to use the emic and etic approach together to get the best results. So what? So why don't we?

Some of us try to but why isn't there more published statements by dancers like this one from Clarke? ''There's my cue! As I walk on stage I feel my stomach is going to burst with nervousness, but as soon as I start the sequence, my nerves turn into a buzz and I feel very confident. As I finish... I come off stage with a sense of pride - I know I have completed my section of (the dance)."(5)

Why do we still tend to take the easy, and sometimes over-emotive, sound bites but not give more voice to the participant and his or her more objective views? It takes more time and leg-work to find people, meet with them and talk around the subject before plunging in with the important questions. It's easier for us to read and observe, taking notes, attempting to keep up with our own multiple thought-lines.

If we are to practice our beliefs, our writing should reflect the emic, "the subjective meanings shared by a social group". (6) For my part, I resist using the community dancer's voice because I have yet to really understand the value of this voice and possibly because I like the sound of my own better.

Ruth Trueman, Lecturer, Middlesex University.

1 Trueman, Ruth, Was I Alright? An examination of the effect of performance on self esteem in community dance, University of Surrey, 1998.
2 & 6 Seymour-Smith, C., MacMillan Dictionary of Anthropology, 1986.
3 Maslow, A. H., Motivation and Personality, Harper and Row, London, 1970.
4 Interview with Silvana Burra, April 1998. The Isles, an interdisciplinary devised work for 40 community dancers was performed at Spokane Opera House, Washington, August 1977.
5 Clarke cited in Clear, animated magazine, Spring, 97.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001