New Digital Collection for Dance Heritage

Posted by Bill Dotson

Hip Hop Hands

Through a first-of-its-kind partnership between the USC Libraries and the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, the USC Digital Library recently debuted a collection of 1,200 video recordings of culturally significant dance performances, rehearsals, media productions, and interviews with pioneering choreographers and dance artists. The project is made possible by generous support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

The newly available Dance Heritage Video Archive includes treasures like an irreverent 1977 performance of “Swan Lake by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in Berkeley, California; interviews with renowned tap performers Yvonne Edwards, Deborah Mitchell, and Germaine Ingraham; and a 1957 performance of Alwin Nikolais’s “Cantos.”

Among the many other highlights are a 1988 performance by Magnificent Force of the piece “Hip Hop Hands,” a Royal Danish Ballet performance of “Greening,” a 2004 performance of Donna Uchizono’s “Butterflies from My Hands,” and performances highlighting New England contra dance and other regional U.S. folk traditions. 

The recordings trace the evolution of ballet, experimental dance and performance, folk styles, hip hop, and numerous other forms of human movement. They also document the creative contributions of dance artists like Ze’eva Cohen, Douglas Dunn, Terry Fox, Lawrence Goldhuber, Anna Halprin, Heidi Latsky, Pearl Primus, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem—among many others.  

The resource was originally created over a 15-year period by the Dance Heritage Coalition through digitization activities at three hubs in New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. A special area of focus for the project was obsolete, at-risk media such as Beta, Umatic, and VHS tapes.

A generous grant from the Mellon Foundation is supporting work by the USC Libraries and USC Kaufman to migrate the collection to the USC Digital Library and—for the first time—make substantial portions of it widely available for online public access.

Swan Lake

The project team is working closely with artists represented in the DHVA collection to secure the necessary permissions to make more recordings available. Thus far, 266 recordings have been made publicly available via the USC Digital Library. The remaining recordings are accessible on a password-protected basis for dance educators, libraries, and other research and teaching purposes.

In future phases of the project, the USC Libraries and USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance team will continue to seek out and digitize at-risk recordings, with a special focus on Southern California dance heritage. The team is now conducting outreach to dance artists and performing companies in the greater Los Angeles region about this phase of the project.

The team includes Vice Dean and Artistic Director Jodie Gates and faculty members Patrick Corbin and Alison D’Amato of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance and Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives Hugh McHarg, USC Digital Library Director Deborah Holmes-Wong, Javier Garibay, Rachel Mandell, Zahid Rafique, Wayne Shoaf, Louise Smith, Tim Stanton, and Rick Zwies of the USC Libraries.

“With respect to our work as dance educators,” said D’Amato, “It is difficult to overstate the limitations that students currently face in accessing historically significant dance works. For a diverse and knowledgeable dance field, we simply must have comprehensive and well-sourced digital platforms that ensure broad access to a diverse selection of full-length dances and the supporting information needed to cite and reference such dances properly. We are thrilled to be working with the USC Digital Library to safeguard these materials and present them in a useful and engaging way.”