Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance

Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance

Date posted: 2007-03-16 09:43:00

Photo: Walter Hahn

by Tomie Hahn

Wesleyan University Press
distributed by University Press of New England

Available: March 2007

How do music and dance reveal the ways in which a community interacts with the world? How are the senses used in communicating cultural knowledge? In Sensational Knowledge, ethnomusicologist and dancer Tomie Hahn uncovers the process and nuances of learning nihon buyo, a traditional Japanese dance form. She uses case studies of dancers at all levels, as well as her own firsthand experiences, to investigate the complex language of bodies, especially across cultural divides. Paying particular attention to the effect of body-to-body transmission, and how culturally constructed processes of transmission influence our sense of self, Hahn argues that the senses facilitate the construction of "boundaries of existence" that define our physical and social worlds. In this flowing and personal text, Hahn reveals the ways in which culture shapes our attendance to various sensoria, and how our interpretation of sensory information shapes our individual realities. An included DVD provides visual examples.

"Hahn's focus on the body and somatic knowledge opens up the world of Japanese dance in utterly new ways. The poetry of her writing highlights the dynamic links between sensual experience and ethnographic practice."—Deborah Wong, author of Speak It Louder: Asian Americans Making Music

"As the Western scholarly literature on Japanese arts continues to burgeon, Tomie Hahn's reflexive approach to transmission is both significant and needed. She offers a window into an important means of communicating culture."—Bonnie Wade, professor of music, University of California at Berkeley


List of Illustrations • A Note on Names and Media • Preface • Acknowledgments • Introduction—Sensual Orientations • Moving Scenes—History and Social Structure • Unfolding Essence—Energetic Sensibilities and Aesthetics • Revealing Lessons—Modes of Transmission: Visual, Tactile, Oral/Aural, & Media • Transforming sensu—Presence and Orientation • Notes • References • Glossary • Index

TOMIE HAHN is an associate professor in the department of the arts at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A performer and student of Japanese dance since the age of four, she has been awarded natori— the professional stage title of Samie Tachibana—from the Tachibana School in Tokyo.

EXCERPT from Sensational Knowledge

by permission of Tomie Hahn

"I remember my first dance lesson with Iemoto (headmaster) Tachibana Yoshie in Tokyo. She took my elbow and led me across the studio, pointing at the impeccably clean wood floor. Nothing seemed unusual. "See these marks . . .," she said, kneeling down on the floor and still pointing here and there. As I bent down to sit by her side, minute water marks and nicks on the floor's surface came into focus. "Those stains are from all of our sweat and tears here together," she continued, sweeping her arm across the room toward the half-dozen onlooking students. "All these marks are from our hard work together everyday––dancing." I looked up from the floor to the students and down to the floor again. My eyes, now wide open, saw how speckled the floor was...Dancers affectionately call the Tachibana dance studio in downtown Tokyo "Hatchobori," the name of the subway stop across the street. Hatchobori often becomes a metaphor for our dance lives, relationships, obligations, and the Tachibana dance tradition. I have revisited early memories like the one above many times over the years, considering how Hatchobori embodies our dance, and how each of us contributes to the physical form of the studio. The surface nicks and stains, while insignificant in themselves, are a tangible result of meaningful physical exertion during lessons; generations of dancers' marks layered upon each other."

            "Hatchobori, witness to the daily transmission of moving art and embodied cultural knowledge, stands both as a symbolic and very real structure of edification. In this lesson the message of Iemoto's work ethic was very clear. I realized with awe the magnitude of energy that had been expended on this dance floor. When Iemoto's arm stretched out toward the students, Hatchobori became personified for me. Dancing bodies had inscribed these marks on the hard floor, contributing symbolically to the larger representation of the school body, and an instantiation of our strong bonds. The students observing my lesson were only a handful of the many generations of bodies that created these patterns I was kneeling on. I felt included in the group, nervous, yet ready to dance.  And so, Iemoto's illustration served a purpose."

Rensselaer Piano Showcase
April 17, 2019 5:00 PM
EMPAC Concert Hall

A concert feature student pianists performing repertoire ranging from the classics to contemporary music, including members of the Rensselaer Orhcestra.