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DAH100: Introduction to Dance

Guide to support the research project for DAH100.

A Sample Search Path

Oh no! I've been asked to do a research paper on something I know little about -- ritual & cultural or social & folk dance forms outside the Western European Tradition. Where do I start? 

What follows is one experience using library resources to research a topic unknown to the searcher.

I didn't even know the names of many non-Western dance forms. Then I found a cool  Dance Style Locater on a library webpage (a Dance guide) that helped me to find the names of dances from different regions of the world.  On that page I stumbled upon a dance form called Bharatanatyam from India.   I had been to Asia a few years back and found the dance fascinating.  I figured I'd see what I could find out about this dance form.

[Side note: this list of books available at GCC Library related to 'folk dancing' is also a great place to start.]

Since this is a scholarly paper, I thought I'd stay away from random web searches, YouTube videos and Wikipedia entries (although they can be good places to start to get some basic background). Still, I thought I'd stick to the library to see what I could find. A librarian had told me about Gale Virtual Reference Library and Credo Reference as well as the music database, Grove & Oxford Music Online. I heard that these sources include hundreds of specialized encyclopedia sets. Maybe some would be about DANCE. To find these databases I clicked on DATABASES in the left column of the Library Home Page. I searched for Bharatanatyam in each of these databases and got very different results.  In GVRL I found the dance form discussed in encyclopedia such as: India Today : An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic (19 metions), Religion: Material Religion (37 mentions), and Encyclopedia of Asian American Folklore and Folklife (9 mentions).

When I searched Credo Reference, the results didn't look that good at first. Three of the entries were names of people and then some articles about medieval India and Asian Indians in America. Then I realized that these articles offered some context, the way the dance form was used outside India and some key people associated with the form.

Not quite done with my BACKGROUND / REFERENCE search I thought I'd try the main search box on the Library Home Page but LIMITED my search to the ARTICLES tab and REFERENCE radio button. Search results here uncovered a few things:

  1. Bharatanatyam can also be spelled Bharata Natyam. That might make a difference in searching .
  2. More reference articles showed up in other resources including: Encyclopedia of Global Religion, Encyclopedia of India, Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend and more. In the Harvard Dictionary of Music I found a bunch of short articles that helped to fill in some details.

Finally, for background info, I thought I'd look at the World Folklore and Folklife database. I tried both Bharatanatyam  (0 results!) and Bharata Natyam. The second spelling yield just 2 results, but they look really good.  Here's where I learned:

"Dance-gestures of the Hindu natya. They translate the rasas, or emotions, into decorative expressions of the hands, highly conventionalized by their ancient divine tradition. Thus the Pataka hand originates from Brahmā. It is the flag hand of victory, with the fingers and thumb extended straight and close together. ... These are a few examples of this elaborate code, which includes in the Bharata Natyam 24 symbols for a single hand, and for both hands, plus 13 for nritta; in the Kathakali school 64 symbols form 500 words." 

Okay ... this is GREAT background info.  What if I want to go deeper?  There are different directions I could take at this point: (a) I could skim through the articles I've found and (b) try searching on new terms I learned or (c) I could search different resources with my current search terms.  Since my instructor told me I should use 'scholarly' sources, especially journals,  I went back to the Library Home Page, clicked on the ARTICLES tab and used the SCHOLARLY radio buttion then searched Bharatanatyam  (the database searched for both forms simultaneously including bharanta natyam, cool!) and found hundreds of articles.  I tried limiters on the left side to limit do disciplines of 'dance' or 'anthropology' as those seemed most relevant. I found articles published Dance Research Journal, Dance Chronicle, Asian Theatre Journal, South Asian Popular Culture journal and more.  Yikes.  With so many choices I may need to narrow my topic!

That said, it occurred to me that the library has other databases under Cultural, Ethnic & Area Studies database heading so I thought I'd take a look.  I saw resources associated with various  cultures and regions but nothing specific to Asia. [If I were doing something related to Latin American, Native American, and African American cultures there'd be other sources to search.] Then I saw Ethnic Newswatch.  I heard that this provided access to various publications of different ethnic group in the United States.  I tried my same searches.  I found hundreds of results!  It seems that there are bharatanatyam events in cities all around the United States (so many listings in the 'Things to Do' sections of newspapers).  Wow. This info could help me talk about the dance form's scope in the US.  Finally, I limited the results to 'peer reviewed' or 'scholarly'. At first I got nothing but then I tried Bharata Natyam and found another interesting article.

Wow. I've got tons of stuff. I already feel like I know something about this dance form and I haven't even read the articles closely. ... I'm off to read and write!

Oh, a couple more things: (1) the link below enables a limited search of the PRINT encyclopedia in the library collection; sometimes you can find useful info there that you don't find online (2) in the story above, I never searched the default search box on the Library Home Page; keep in mind that can be useful, too and (3) if you don't find what you're looking for, be sure to Ask-a-Librarian! The chat services is 24/7 and there's always a librarian at the GCC Library reference desk when the library is open.

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