visceral histories, visual arguments: dance-based approaches to data

Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments: Dance-Based Approaches to Data is a three-year initiative (2022-2025) under the co-direction of Kate Elswit (with support from a Research Development and Engagement Fellowship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council) and Harmony Bench (with support from OSU’s Global Arts and Humanities Society of Fellows) as part of an ongoing set of collaborations. The core project team also includes Tia-Monique Uzor and Nicola Plant. Whereas Bench and Elswit’s previous collaboration Dunham’s Data: Katherine Dunham and Digital Methods for Dance Historical Inquiry pioneered the application of scalable digital methods to the field of dance history, Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments will focus on the adaptation of data-driven research to the medium of dance that serves to enable this broader paradigm shift. We investigate how a data-driven approach that is tailored to the medium of dance can transform the use of digital tools to evidence and elaborate the historical study of embodied knowledge more broadly. Visceral Histories, Visual Arguments curates historical data that centres dance-based knowledge practices to create palpable visual arguments in the form of digital visualizations and immersive experiences, guided by choreographic principles.

this is where we dance now: covid-19 and the new and next in dance onscreen

This special issue of The International Journal of Screendance addresses how the Covid- 19 pandemic rapidly shifted where, how, why, and under what conditions we dance. As lockdown orders swept across much of the world in early 2020, closing down the theaters, clubs, studios, and community centers where dancers practice, we found ourselves in awe of a collective refusal to stop dancing, and indeed, what seemed to be the emergence of a whole new era of dance onscreen. In 2019, the screen was just one among many venues where dance artists and enthusiasts might view and participate in dance. In 2020, the screen was seemingly the only venue, and its logics of geography and access to movement communities across the globe suddenly shifted in ways that will likely reverberate for years to come. Guest-edited with Alexandra Harlig.

dunham’s data: katherine dunham and digital methods for dance historical inquiry

Dunham’s Data is a three year project (2018-2021) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), under the direction of Kate Elswit (PI, University of London, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama) and Harmony Bench (CI, The Ohio State University) with post-doctoral researchers Antonio Jimenez-Mavillard and Tia-Monique Uzor. Through this project, we explore the kinds of questions and problems that make the analysis and visualization of data meaningful for dance historical inquiry. To do so, we are investigating how dance moves both across geographical locations and across networks of cultural, artistic, and financial capital through the case study of Katherine Dunham. While digital methods have altered the landscape of most humanities and arts disciplines, the field of dance studies has yet to fully identify how it can benefit from these analytic approaches. Through the specific line of research regarding Dunham, the project addresses the original problems and questions of dance history that can be advanced through an innovative critical mixed methods approach that includes geographical mapping and network analysis.

be the street

In an era marked by global migration, war refugees, and terrorism, it is more important than ever to understand both how the uprooted, displaced, and re-located find ways to constitute community and how receiving communities constructively incorporate new residents. What are the tensions that human mobility generates? How do constructions of place affect the well-being of uprooted and host communities? How do our policies, institutions, and physical environment as well as our everyday performative strategies impact the lived reality of long-term residents and new arrivals? Who is included and excluded from the process of community formation, and why? What performative phenomena impede community formation? Where in our existing social structure do we find opportunities for performative interaction across difference? How does placemaking at the grassroots level interact with city or state-level initiatives to engineer attractive and welcoming environments? Be the Street seeks to respond to these urgent questions by developing performance work in partnership with local communities in order to reflect upon the making and re-making of place. The research team is led by Ana Puga (Theatre/Spanish and Portuguese) with co-investigators Harmony Bench (Dance), Katey Borland (Comparative Studies), Elena Foulis (Spanish and Portuguese), Paloma Martínez-Cruz (Spanish and Portuguese), and Shilarna Stokes (Theatre).

dance in transit

Dance in Transit (Harmony Bench and Kate Elswit, PI) is a digital humanities research project that applies the tools of data analysis to the study of dance history. In particular, this project emphasizes the necessary relation between touring performers and the modes, networks, and infrastructures of transportation that link cities, countries, and cultures. Dance in Transit focuses on African American choreographer Katherine Dunham, whose work as a choreographer and anthropologist included research trips throughout the Caribbean, global travel for her work in the Hollywood film industry, as well as the domestic and international touring of her dance company. Dance in Transit seeks to make visible the itinerant life of a mid-century choreographer and bring focused attention to modes of transportation and transmission–as well as the relational infrastructures–that enable the global spread of dance. Dance in Transit is supported by a Battelle Engineering, Technology, and Human Affairs (BETHA) Grant.

mapping touring

Mapping Touring (Harmony Bench, PI) is a digital humanities research project that documents and tracks the appearances of dancers, choreographers, and dance companies/troupes in the first half of the 20th century as they toured domestically and internationally. Of particular concern is representing the dates of performance, cities and venues, and repertory performed in each site. The project proposes that close examination of dancers on the move demands that scholars grapple more concertedly with global economies of movement in the early 20th century. In addition, as patterns of touring emerge, so will regional dance histories, offering a fuller portrait of local arts communities across the country. Finally, Mapping Touring aims to make performers more visible to the historical record. Mapping Touring is supported by a Research and Creative Activity Grant from The Ohio State University, as well as a Battelle Engineering, Technology, and Human Affairs (BETHA) Grant.

spectacles of agency and desire

The work gathered in this website was produced by students in Dance 4490: Special Topics in the Archive at The Ohio State University. The course, titled Spectacles of Agency and Desire: Dance Histories and the Burlesque Stage, was offered in Autumn 2015 and led by Professors Harmony Bench and Nena Couch with the assistance of Rachel Freeburg. The students in the course were Katherine Greer, Lilianna Kane, Maddie Leonard-Rose, Margaret Morrison, and Claire Staveski. The course featured materials from the renowned Charles H. McCaghy Collection of Exotic Dance From Burlesque to Clubs at OSU.


Transit–>Summit was performed by Harmony Bench and Tammy Carrasco at Ten Tiny Performances in Columbus, OH in January 2014. The show was curated by Paige Phillips.

mascot moskovina

Mascot Moskovina, also known as Mascot Vesely, performed with the “Incomparable” Anna Pavlova in her North American tour of 1915 and for part of her South American tour in 1917. This website presents what remains of the correspondence between Mascot and her friend, Billie Morton, and Morton’s daughter Nondas. It appears that they met while Pavlova’s company performed in Chicago in March of 1915. This project is part of a larger attempt to utilize digital tools to represent dance history, making archival holdings more broadly available and opening up new avenues for dance research.

the international journal of screendance

The International Journal of Screendance is an international, artist-led journal exploring the field of Screendance. It is the first-ever scholarly journal wholly dedicated to this growing area of worldwide interdisciplinary practice. The International Journal of Screendance will engage in rigorous critique grounded in both pre-existing and yet to be articulated methodologies from the fields of dance, performance, visual art, cinema and media arts, drawing on their practices, technologies, theories and philosophies. The Journal will provide a new frame through which Screendance will be examined in the context of contemporary cultural debates about interdisciplinarity, artistic agency, practice as theory, and curatorial practices.


This project was undertaken with students at Connecticut College in 2011. It was rebuilt as Conn College Redux in 2014.