Inside Rensselaer
New Book Explores Embodied  Cultural Knowledge and Traditional Japanese Dance
* Sensational Knowledge
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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? A new book written by Tomie Hahn, associate professor of the arts, uncovers the process and nuances of learning nihon buyo, a traditional Japanese dance form.

A performer and student of Japanese dance since the age of 4, Hahn has been awarded natori — the professional stage name of Samie Tachibana — from the Tachibana School in Tokyo. In Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance (Wesleyan University Press), ethnomusicologist and dancer Hahn examines the transmission of nihon buyo and how cultural knowledge, along with the dance, is passed from teacher to student. 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 her flowing and personal text, she reveals the ways in which culture shapes our attendance to various sensorium, and likewise how our interpretation of sensory information shapes our individual realities.

“The book offers a peek into some of the everyday life at the Tachibana school of nihon buyo in order to convey the sensitivities of the culturally constructed process of teaching,” writes Hahn. “Since childhood, nihon buyo has been a part of my life. This led me to question how we learn cultural sensitivities of the body in such a way that they seem second nature, reflecting our sense of self, as well as how we come to understand the world around us.”

Hahn has been a faculty member at Rensselaer since 2002. She is a performer and ethnologist whose activities span a wide range of topics including: Japanese traditional performing arts, Monster Truck rallies, issues of identity and creative expression of multiracial individuals, and relationships of technology and culture; interactive dance/movement performance; and gestural control and extended human/computer interface in the performing arts. She received a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, an M.A. in urban ethnomusicology from New York University, and a B.S. in performance and art history from Indiana University (Bloomington). She is also a teacher/performer of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute).

To learn more about Tomie Hahn, go to www.arts.rpi.edu/tomie/.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 5, October 11, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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