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New Book Explores Traditional Japanese Dance

Electronic Arts

New Book Explores Traditional Japanese Dance

In her book, Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance (Wesleyan University Press), Associate Arts Professor Tomie Hahn —
a dancer since the age of 4 — uncovers the process and nuances of learning the traditional Japanese dance form nihon buyo.

An ethnomusicologist, Hahn examines in her book 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.”

Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture Through Japanese Dance is accompanied by a DVD that provides a unique companion to the book, taking viewers inside private nihon buyo lessons.

Hahn received her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University, and is also a teacher/performer of shakuhachi (Japanese bamboo flute). She has spoken and performed in such venues as New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Smithsonian Institution.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.