From the stage into research

Lindsey Drury is an American artist and academic who is conducting research at FU Berlin.

"The histories of theatre and literature are obviously closely related, but with dance and literature the relationship is much more difficult to ascertain", says Lindsey Drury. She should know; after all, she herself embodies this unusual relationship. The 39-year-old is a trained dancer and spent eight years working as a choreographer in New York before becoming a historian in Europe. She now explores the links between dance and literature over the course of history.  

The career switch was prompted when she engaged with the choreographies of Yvonne Meier. Drury initially worked together with the US-Swiss dancer in New York and then wrote her master's thesis about her. "In her choreography Yvonne Meier makes writing into dance scenes and so she made me ask the question how dance and literature are related", recalls Drury.

Exploring how identities are created

Even then she suspected that there must be more to the relationship between dance and literature than simply the question of how a transfer takes place from one medium to the other. So she began to read every possible description of dance scenes she could find – for example in romantic stories from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, and in late-mediaeval medical treatises, in which dance is described as a medical condition known as dancing mania. In her dissertation she then used all kinds of literary sources from the Late Middle Ages to the seventeenth century to discover which forms of expression authors found to describe dance and the associated physicality and how dance as an art form in its turn picked up on these Early Modern Age concepts and reflected on them.

Because she did her PhD as part of the Erasmus Mundus programme "Text and Event in Early Modern Europe", Lindsey Drury also came to Freie Universität Berlin in 2019, after a period of time spent at the University of Kent in England, and finally ended up at the Temporal Communities cluster of excellence. Ever since, she has been studying the universal motif of pagan dance there, which appears in various types of literature from antiquity to the modern era. She is investigating the extent to which this motif, which was used among other things in the USA to prohibit the ritual dances of the Native Americans, served to create an identity for colonial and post-colonial Europe and the USA.

Building digital communities

"It's the best thing that ever happened to me", is how Lindsey Drury describes her work at the cluster of excellence. Not only did she find the international research community that she wanted there, comprising nearly one hundred colleagues in literary studies, linguistics and history – she also greatly appreciates the digital research methods that are used there as a matter of course. "As a dance historian you need digital tools", says Drury, who coordinates the research area "Building Digital Communities" within the cluster. The idea is to compile a kind of interactive encyclopaedia. "It's not just a publication, it's an infrastructure we are building to facilitate communication and collaboration for researchers in the humanities", Drury explains. Work on this has only just begun, with the participating experts reflecting online on how to use certain key terms such as "data", "materiality" or "temporality" so that they can better discuss and communicate their research.

Drury herself plans to present her final academic publication in the form of a book combined with an online platform. This is still a long way off, however, and her thoughts are elsewhere in any case just now: namely with the academics from the Native American communities with whom she would normally be discussing her research questions. "They are hit much harder by the Covid crisis", says Drury with concern. The only problem she herself has at present is that she is unable to travel.