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Of Sylphs, Swans, and Swimmers: Dance Writing and Criticism

Semester and Year FA 2016
Course Number ELEC-GG2060
Section 001
Instructor Julie Malnig
Days W
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level G
Foundation Requirement  


Open to advanced undergraduates with permission of the instructor (


In his celebrated essay “Dancers, Buildings, and People in the Streets,” renowned dance critic and poet Edwin Denby wrote that “One part of dance criticism is seeing what is happening onstage. The other is describing clearly what it is you saw.” “Of Sylphs, Swans, and Swimmers: Writing About Dance Performance,” an advanced writing seminar, aims to train students to become critical viewers of dance of various kinds and translate that “looking” into analytical and persuasive prose. The course focuses on writing and thinking critically about dance inclusive of a range of genres among them social and popular dance, concert dance, dance-theater, and musical-theater dance. The ultimate challenge of the course will be to develop a vocabulary to track an essentially non-verbal, ephemeral art form; we will accomplish this through considerations of how space, time, and rhythm are employed in a variety of dance works. The course is also a history of different styles of dance criticism from the early part of the 20th-century to the present. Readings will include works by André Levinson, Edwin Denby, John Martin, Arlene Croce, Marcia Siegel, Joan Acocella, Deborah Jowitt, Brenda Dixon-Gottschild, Thomas DeFrantz, Ann Daly, and others. We will also study the writing in some of the major dance journals in the field among them  Dance Research Journal, Dance Chronicle, and Dance Research . The work of the course consists of essay writing, attendance at dance concerts, and visits by guest critics. Finally, the course will also consider how writing itself is akin to a choreographic endeavor.

Course Type

Graduate Electives (ELEC-GG)