Discovering Dance Items at ʻUluʻulu

For the practicum portion of my DHC fellowship, I worked at ʻUluʻUlu: The Henry Kuʻualoha Giugni Moving Image Archive of Hawaiʻi.

As stated on ʻUluʻulu’s website, “ʻUluʻulu is a Hawaiian word meaning collections, assembly, or gathering. Our archive is not just a collection of moving image items, but also an assembly of voices, communities, and stories; a gathering place for people to share Hawaiʻi’s culture, traditions and collective memory.”

My work at ʻUluʻulu focused on locating and assessing the collection’s dance items. Head Archivist Janel Quirante outlined a special project for me where I acted as an independent researcher, of sorts. With dance being my research topic, the processes of discovery and survey were my own to create and execute.

To locate the collection’s dance items, I began by undergoing several test searches in ʻUluʻulu’s media asset management system, MAVIS (Merged Audio Visual Information System). I executed 44 searches, using different terms in different fields, where appropriate. For example, I searched for “hula” in MAVIS’ “Name,” “Name Keywords”, and “Simple Search” fields. In an attempt to locate all of the collection’s dance items, my search terms included names of specific dances from the variety of ethnicities present in Hawaiʻi. Thus, my search terms included “hula” (Hawaiian dance), “bon” (Japanese dance), and “tinikling” (Filipino dance).

As stated above, ʻUluʻulu is focused on collecting materials relating to Hawaiʻi. As such, a majority of the dance items in the collection are related to hula. One interesting group of items that I found in the collection were a set of tapes called “King Kalākaua Jubilee Centennial Celebration”, an event which occurred in November 1986. These tapes had “Hula 1886” written on the case spine. Hula from 1886?! Cool!

The collection also has footage of several kumu hula [hula teachers, instructors, masters] who have passed away, such as Nona Beamer, O’Brian Eselu, and Elaine Kaopuiki. That the teachings of these kumu can continue to inform current and future generations of Hawaiians and hula practioners because of moving images is … amazing.

In summary, I located more than 300 dance-related items in the ʻUluʻulu collection. What’s more, approximately one-third of those items have been digitized and their clips are available for viewing on the ʻUluʻulu website:


SAA 2014 & a visit to TRI at OSU

Last week was chock-full of educational, inspiring experiences for me. First, I attended the COSA-NAGARA-SAA Joint Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.   This was my first time attending an SAA conference, and it was also my first time visiting D.C. Second, after the conference ended, I stopped in Columbus, OH for a few days to look at the Carl Wolz Collection at The Ohio State University’s Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute. Below are highlights from my travels.

SAA 2014

The theme for this year’s annual meeting was “Archives Records: Ensuring Access.” I was most interested in sessions related to digital records and digital archives.

The first session I attended was “Session 101 – Getting Things Done with Born-Digital Collections.” Featured on this panel were Brian Dietz (Digital Program Librarian, North Carolina State University Libraries), Gloria Gonzalez (Digital Archivist, University of California, Los Angeles), Jason Evans Groth (NCSU Libraries Fellow, North Carolina State University Libraries), Ashley Howdeshell (Associate Archivist, Loyola University Chicago), Dan Noonan (e-records/Digital Resources Archivist, The Ohio State University), and Loren Sorenson (Digital Conversion Specialist, Library of Congress).

One of the overwhelming messages that came out from that session was that there is no perfect tool for managing digital records. Rather, each institution is doing what they can with what they’ve got (e.g. technical knowledge, staff time, money). Jason Evans Groth stressed the idea of stringing together many tools to achieve the goals of access and preservation. At his institution, creating a simple workflow with dynamic documentation has allowed his staff the flexibility and direction to maintain their digital collections. Daniel Noonan focused on the idea of doing something now, not waiting for the perfect tool to come along. Noonan shared his professional philosophy that it’s not his job to preserve digital objects forever; rather, he is responsible for ensuring the transfer of digital objects into the hands of the next generation of digital resource managers.

Carl Wolz Collection

Carl Wolz (1932-2002) was an innovator and leader in dance instruction, documentation, education, and public performance. After serving in the Navy during the Korean War, Wolz went on to major in Art History at the University of Chicago. He then attended Julliard School for dance and later worked with the Lucas Hoving Dance Company. In 1962 he received a fellowship to study Asian dance at the University of Hawaii. Wolz later became a faculty member at UH, directing and expanding the dance program there for almost two decades. After leaving UH, Wolz taught dance in Japan and Hong Kong, and later founded the organization that would eventually become known as the World Dance Alliance. For more information on Wolz and the contributions he made to the dance world, you can read the biography portion of the New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts’ Carl Wolz papers collection description.

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Pictures courtesy of Wayne Harada, “University remembers innovative dance director”, Honolulu Advertiser, 2/1/2002.

The Carl Wolz Collection is part of the Dance Notation Bureau Collection at the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI), which is housed in Thompson Library at The Ohio State University. Nena Couch, Head of Thompson Library Special Collections and member of DHC’s Board of Directors, invited me to view the collection on my way back from SAA. In anticipation of my visit, I viewed the collection’s finding aid, and prioritized the folders I wanted to look at. My priority list focused on the materials relevant to hula and other dances in Hawaiʻi.

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Quick side note: it was such a pleasure visiting with Nena – she was so kind and welcoming.  Speaking with her throughout the day was both educational and motivational.  Her background and work in performing arts archives is unparalleled.

Shortly after I arrived at TRI, Nena introduced me to Rachael Riggs Leyva, a former DHC fellow who is currently working toward her PhD in Dance Studies at OSU. Rachael holds Advanced Theory and Elementary/Intermediate Teaching certifications through the Dance Notation Bureau (DNB). Rachael’s background in music and dance (specifically ballet, tap, and modern) contribute to her work in Labanotation. Wolz was also heavily involved with Labanotation, and are were quite a few dance scores in the Wolz Collection.

Labanotation is a dance notation system – it uses a set of standardized symbols to analyze and record human movement. The system was first introduced by Hungarian Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958) in 1928.   Ann Hutchinson Guest, known as the leading expert of Labanotation, made great contributions to the system and promoted its use in the United States. For a brief introduction to the mechanics of Labanotation and dance scores, visit the DNB’s website.

Using her background in Labanotation, Rachael was able to reconstruct one of the dance scores in the Wolz Collection. The dance was for a hula to the song “Lovely Hula Hands.” Watching Rachael work through the dance score and put together the feet, hip, arms, hands, and head movements for the hula was one of the coolest things I have ever seen in my entire life.

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As a hula practitioner, watching someone with no prior background in hula translate symbols on a page to actual, physical body movements was just amazing. I’ve only learned hula face-to-face from a kumu (hula master, instructor) – my kumu will demonstrate a motion, then we’ll repeat it, and then she’ll give us feedback and point out any adjustments that need to be made. But Rachael was able to execute motions by reading symbols on a page! That difference in the mode of transmission of dance is what made watching Rachael such an eye-opening and inspiring experience for me. My work at MP+D focused heavily on video as a tool for the transmission and preservation of dance, and I wrote previously about the shortcomings associated with such a tool for such a task. My response to Labanotation is similar – it isn’t the singular, perfect tool for dance transmission and preservation, but its advantages warrant its use in a comprehensive collection of tools for dance transmission and preservation.

The “scholar” part of me was excited by the experience, too. There, at The Ohio State University, are these materials related to hula, a dance from Hawaiʻi, which is located more than 4,400 miles from Columbus, OH. And not only was there a significant physical separation from the point of origin of the materials, but there was also a temporal separation – the materials I looked at two weeks ago were created 30 to 50 years ago. Thirty to fifty years ago, Hawaiʻi was in the swing of a cultural renaissance, with traditional Hawaiian practices resurfacing in “mainstream”, everyday life. The materials in the Wolz Collection form a microcosm of that time, offering a lense into a very specific situation (in this case, dance) through which we can extrapolate details representative of a larger history and culture. Think of the implications. Researchers from numerous disciplines (history, dance, anthropology, sociology, etc.) and locations could find value in the Wolz Collection materials.

The materials in the Wolz Collection that most interested me were Wolz’s descriptions of hula: its background, basic steps, and use in Hawaiian culture. In one note, Wolz lists the elements of style that form hula as: “balance of arms, focus of eyes, level of elbows, changing levels, moderate hip sway, lovely hands.” I, myself, would not have thought of defining hula in such parts. But, at the same time, those descriptions make complete sense.

I was also intrigued by the terminology Wolz used in describing certain facets of hula. For example, Wolz described a hula puaa as a “hog dance.” Technically, a puaa can be defined as a hog. However, nowadays, puaa, is usually referred to as a pig. I realize that hog and pig are synonymous. What’s interesting to me, though, is that Wolz used the term “hog.” I wonder if that is due to Wolz’s personal upbringing and background, or whether it’s because “hog” was the prominent term in Hawaiʻi at the time.

Additionally, Wolz provides the following definition for a hula kuhi: “Pointing dance. (sitting). Point out things in answer to questions.” My hula experience defines a hula kuhi similarly as a sitting hula where the hands are the prominent gesture-makers. However, I have not done a hula kuhi where I’ve pointed out things in answer to questions. I wish there were more references for hula kuhi in Wolz’s notes. It would be interesting to determine if hula kuhi were exclusively answer/question dances during Wolz’s time in Hawaiʻi.

I’m still in the process of going through all of the notes and pictures I took while looking at the Wolz Collection, and I continue to learn new things about hula and Hawaiʻi from the collection materials. The whole experience at TRI reminds me of an ʻōlelo noʻeau (traditional Hawaiian proverb): “ʻAʻohe pau ka ʻike i ka hālau hoʻokahi,” which translates to and is described as, “All knowledge is not taught in the same school. One can learn from many sources.” Hula is a tradition that has been practiced in my family for the past seven generations, and I have practiced hula for more than fifteen years. In consideration of all of the knowledge that comes with that background, I was so excited (personally, professionally, and academically) to gain new insights into hula from the Wolz Collection. Such an experience reminds me of the power of archives to transcend the boundaries of time and space in their mission to preserve and make available knowledge and information.

Many, many thanks to Nena, Libby, DHC, and IMLS for creating this experience for me!


My First Weeks @ MP+D: Dance Documentation

Aloha kakou!  I’ve just finished my second week at my DHC Fellowship host site, the Museum of Performance + Design (MP+D).  MP+D is “the only independent, non-profit art organization in the United States devoted to the history of performing arts and theatrical design” (MP+D website).  At MP+D I’m working with Kirsten Tanaka, the Head Librarian/Archivist, and Supriya Wronkiewicz, the Archivist/Project Archivist.  Jennifer Kishi, a former DHC Fellow who is now consulting for MP+D for the DHC’s Dance Preservation and Digitization Project (DPDP), is also guiding me.

A glimpse of MP+Dʻs physical collectin

A glimpse of MP+Dʻs physical collection

During my first week at MP+D, Jennifer instructed me through my first experience digitizing analog videotape.  The tape I digitized was taken from a night of performances at the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival , an annual showcase of dances from a variety of cultures.  Video has become a medium of preservation for performing arts such as dance.  Through video, the sounds (e.g. musical accompaniment) and sights (e.g. dance movements, set pieces) of a performance can be captured.

One of three DHC Digitization Hubs, complete with Hi8 & S-VHS decks, as well as a combination waveform monitor / vectorscope.

One of three DHC Digitization Hubs, complete with Hi8 & S-VHS decks, as well as a combination waveform monitor / vectorscope.

“But what about the energy?” posed Jump Rhythm Jazz Project Artistic Director Billy Siegenfeld to us DHC Fellows when we met with him in Chicago last month.  How do we, as archivists, capture and preserve the genealogy, story, and impact present when a dance is performed?  For this purpose, video alone is an inadequate tool.

The DHC continues to investigate the documentation of dance.  In Documenting Dance (2006), the DHC outlined a multitude of dance documentation projects.  In addition to video, some of the other tools used by the projects included dance notations and scores, still images, and dancer and choreographer recollection (via interviews).  These tools aid in providing context and meaning for a dance.

Although not a dance archive, the Roundabout Theatre Company Archives has a digital portal that utilizes various tools for capturing, preserving, and sharing the company’s productions.  For example, for the companyʻs production of A Raisin in the Sun , users can view the credits, set rendering, production photographs, and playbill.  All of those different objects provide different points of access for the production.  And cohesively the objects form a multi-faceted view of the production for the users of the companyʻs digital portal.

A digital dance archive could model this approach taken by the Roundabout Theatre Company Archives by focussing on different ways users can experience a dance.

Dance! Dance! Dance!

Aloha kakou!  This is the first of my blog posts documenting my fellowship this summer with the Dance Heritage Coalition.  DHC is a national organization dedicated to dance and its impact on artistic, cultural, and historical communities.  In addition to myself, there are seven fellows – all of them amazingly smart, talented ladies who share my passion for the archival practice of dance materials.  We all met in Chicago last week for orientation and it could not have been a better experience!

I’ve never been to Chicago before, so just being in the city was exciting in itself.  Chicago is a city that celebrates the arts, and that is evident in its organization, architecture, and public programming.

Chicago Public Library

Chicago Public Library: Harold Washington Library Center

We visited four institutions while in Chicago: The Newberry Library (a private, independent research library), Natya Dance Theatre (a critically acclaimed Indian dance company), Jump Rhythm Jazz Project (a dance company dedicated to the expression of human energy), and the Chicago Film Archives (a regional film archive).  What I took away from each of these institutions was the specialness of dance, in all its forms.  For example, at The Newberry, I was first introduced to the world of ballet.  Alison Hinderliter, the Manuscripts and Archives Librarian there, brought out for us the shoes of Anna Pavlova, a Russian prima ballerina of the last century.  Even though they are decades old, those shoes still evoke such strong emotional responses, which is reflective of the significance and influence that this one dancer contributed to ballet and, furthermore, dance.


DHC Executive Director Libby Smigel holding Pavlova’s shoe

I look forward to discovering more about the world of dance and, also, how I can contribute to its preservation and continuity.  Until next time, I leave you with a stunning performance from Pavlova: