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MODERNMOVES Report Summary

Project ID: 324198
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom

Mid-Term Report Summary - MODERNMOVES (Modern Moves: Kinetic Transnationalism and Afro-Diasporic Rhythm Cultures)

Modern Moves has completed half its life as a project dedicated to the investigation of Afro-diasporic rhythm cultures and to answering a central question: why do people the world over, whether or not they profess to an African-derived racial or ethnic identity, turn to these forms of social dance and their related music, for leisure, pleasure and self-fashioning? What is the relationship of their transoceanic history and traumatic origins in slavery, uprooting, deracination and diaspora to their current transnational popularity? What does modernity look like when examined through the idea of Africa that haunts these dances? Our project stands out from other investigations dance and modernity in our emphases on the body in collective movement (the act of dancing in a space demarcated as a space for dancing); on the social, improvisational, demotic dimension of dancing (as opposed to choreography for stage); and the dialogue between the racialised histories of these dances and their post-racial circulation in the modern world.

Our work in these 2.5 years as a team has been to develop approaches and methodologies for this investigation that do not dilute these emphases. We have kept in the foreground the need to dance to write about dance, and the commitment to involve artists at every level of research and dissemination, without compromising academic rigour. In the process, we have become the default centre for the study of and dissemination of knowledge about afro-diasporic rhythm cultures—in London, certainly, but also uniquely within academia. Given the aims of the project, it is our major achievement that we have been able to connect with the artistic community worldwide— inviting them to speak at our events, commissioning performances from them, and partnering with festivals worldwide in a variety of ways, and that the social dancers of London, elsewhere in the UK, and even Paris and other European cities can be counted on as regular audience members for our events.

At the forefront of our achievements are our meticulously planned and delivered events (especially our signature ‘Moving Conversations’), which have brought some great names in Afro-diasporic music and dance to London and transformed the University as a non-hierarchical space that welcomes cultures of the body as well as the mind. At our events, KCL catering staff, technicians, and porters mingle with our guests and share in the conviction that knowledge—like movement— is to be shared by all. Through our events we break normative assumptions and Cartesian mind-body dichotomies that still hold back much academic research on dance, on modernity, and their inter-relationships.

The team shares an enthusiasm and indefatigability for the physical dimension of research, often carried out at times not ‘normal’ for academic work but certainly for the social life of dance, and for investigating the histories behind this creation of hierarchies and temporalities as much as exploding them. We also share a passion for linguistic diversity and communication between the privileged world of the university and the marginalised world of social dance. Through over 40 fieldtrips all over the world and over 30 events of public dissemination we have converted this passion into tangible results for a new community of thinking dancers and dancing thinkers. This community includes an international network of early career and senior scholars and industry partners who unreservedly give of their time, expertise, and passion to ensure the success of our research goals.

We are equally proud of our elegant and dynamic website, itself an act of knowledge exchange as it was produced, along with our logotype and posters, by DJ and graphic designer Wilfrid Vertueux. By updating it regularly and linking it to our facebook page, whose followers now approach 500, we ensure that our research results are continually disseminated to the wider public and that the project’s work remains ‘open access’ in an attractive and accessible way. Moreover, all academic articles that have emerged from the project are immediately uploaded to the website on publication as part of our commitment to open access. These articles, 16 in number so far, a completed book manuscript, and numerous presentations at conferences worldwide by the research team, attest to a high level of academic productivity which we have not sacrificed in the quest for a movement-led research practice on the politics of pleasure. Our biggest achievement then is our ability to blur productively the distinctions between work and play, and enjoyment and leisure, through a project that not just the research team but also numerous others from academia and industry feel they own and benefit from.

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United Kingdom
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