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Winter 1999

All the World's a Stage
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When the idea of merging the two entities was first floated in 1994, resistance was palpable, based on understandable fears of loss of identity and the dilution of established programs. But Mitoma says that she could see "that the remedy for what was ailing dance -- a lack of connection to community and the outside world, and a lack of creativity, which was true of dance all across the country -- could come from the WAC Program. And I also thought that it was time to inaugurate a dance department that was different from 98 percent of the dance departments in this country."

While some may have thought it a betrayal, Mitoma adds, "I thought it was an opportunity to again be at the forefront of the field."

One of the most frustrating and formative rites of passage for new students in the department is the frequent need to define what the field of World Arts and Cultures stands for, a notoriously slippery task. "When you study English, nobody needs to ask what that means," one student offered in class last year. "But when you say you're majoring in WAC, you get these weird looks, almost as if you were an academic martian."

But if a definition of WAC is difficult to pin down, this is due, at least in part, to the fact that WAC is as much an anti-discipline as a discipline. Fittingly, the three key features of the department resound like a manifesto. In WAC, the popular and folk arts are placed on equal terms with the high or classical arts. Ballet, for example, is treated as just another dance genre, as part of a European arts diaspora rather than the font from which all movement flows. Secondly, the human body is the starting place in virtually all WAC approaches. Even when the art being studied is of a material nature, such as architecture or visual art, WAC attends to the process through which the material is made, and the action of the bodies that make it. Finally, community engagement is viewed as so crucial that it transcends the separation between dance and cultural studies, between theory and practice. All the WAC faculty, whether they be ethnographers, theorists or choreographers, place enormous value on the application of WAC studies to life beyond the university.

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