Performing the belief in contemporary dance
Centre for Sociological Research Catholic University of Leuven Leuven, Belgium
In this paper, I will try to elucidate how the identity and reality of contemporary dance is constructed in a performative way through a variety of discursive as well as non-discursive practices. My attempt combines theoretical insights from recent performance theory (J. Butler), second order cybernetics (N. Luhmann) and so-called post-structuralism (J. Derrida). Two points will be stressed in the overall argument , which is backed by a first-hand acquaintance with the field of contemporary dance as researcher as well as through more direct forms of participation such as teaching, criticism and personal friendships with dance makers.
First, the performative identification of "something" as in instance of contemporary dance implies a form of belief, in the sense of an explicit or implicit conviction that the performed identifications identify real identities. Yet, one never believes alone: the first order modality of believing is in principle backed by the belief that there are others who belief what one believes. This belief circle points to the importance of others, real and imaginary ones, for and "within" the performativity of categories such as contemporary dance.
Second, I will point out that the identification of something as an instance of contemporary dance only acquires a certain plausibility if it is repeated by other actors. Every reiteration re-performs the initial performativity in an at least temporarily, often also discursively or non-discursively and institutionally different context, which evidently implies shifts, re-articulations, re-embeddings, and so on. Nevertheless, the self-referentiality of reiterations may effectively result in an overall confirmation of the previous labeling of for instance a public performance as "being contemporary dance". In this way, the already realized identification is at once temporarily and socially generalized. From a certain moment onwards, the identification acquires a factuality which is difficult to deny, let alone to disconfirm. In the concluding section, I will therefore argue that reiterations of identifications by different actors in different time sequences and within various contexts have an unintended social performativity.