Frames of Reference

A Resource Guide from the National Initiative to Preserve America's Dance

Edited by Janice M. Deputy

2001, 80 pages, $7.00. Dance/USA, Washington, DC, 1156 15th Street, N.W., Suite 820, Washington, D.C. 20005-1704, 202-833-1717,

The National Initiative to Preserve America's Dance (NIPAD) was established in 1993 with funds totaling nearly $5.5 million provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts to encourage individuals and institutions to find ways to document and preserve dance. Over eight years a total of forty-three grantees were supported through this program, which was led by Andrea E. Snyder (now executive director, Dance/USA) and housed at the Kennedy Center for the Arts. Frames of Reference documents the lessons learned and provides brief case studies of each of the projects supported by NIPAD.

This useful documentation is effectively structured into four sections including the "Lessons Learned" by grantees, "The NIPAD Projects" or case study summaries of the forty-three projects, "Practical Guidelines" for proceeding with a documentation project, and an assortment of "Resources" including Web sites and recommended readings.

Authored by a collection of ten different writers, case studies are effectively used throughout to illustrate key points, and are usually summarized to clarify the specific lessons learned, the heart of the booklet. Not only are the success stories featured, but, as importantly, examples of projects that failed or were unfulfilled are included, with observations from the project directors that could be helpful to others.

Since dance is an art form that has evolved through an oral history tradition, documenting its accomplishments and discoveries, personalities and forms is relatively new. In her introduction, Snyder says, "If the dance field didn't rise to the occasion of ensuring its own legacy, who would?... The legitimacy of the art form depends, in part, on its value in our society and that value is directly linked to its history.”

Beyond the obvious need to preserve historical developments in dance, documentation also assists with artists' ability to pass repertory from generation to generation, provides educational materials for dance students, and introduces others to culturally significant dance styles.

The six chapters illustrating the lessons learned by grantees cover the following topics: 1) designing a project, 2) creating a budget, 3) describing approaches to archival collection and concerns about preservation and access to collections, 4) concerns for cultural sensitivity, 5) issues related to collaboration between dance artists and film- or video-makers, and 6) contingency planning. Each chapter provides sound and detailed suggestions, especially helpful for anyone pursuing or collaborating on a documentation project.

Examples of some of the projects that were funded include: preservation of vintage footage of the legendary Copasetics directed by the American Tap Dance Orchestra, documentation of Cambodian court dance repertory including interviews with master dancers and musicians still in Cambodia coordinated by the Cambodian Network Council, preservation of the original choreographic notes of Merce Cunningham for the Cunningham Dance Foundation, and a television documentary on the history of Dance Place in Washington, D.C., created by Linda Lewett.

The section on “Practical Guidelines” provides useful information on videotape restoration, caring for original materials, planning and budgeting, and considerations for starting a dance archive.

reviewed by Julie Dalgleish, The Bush Foundation