Kristin Buhrow

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Emory U.

Grant number

Gr. 10288

Approve Date

April 13, 2022

Project Title

Buhrow, Kristin (Emory U.) "The Performance of Ethnicity and the Development of a Double Consciousness: Chinese Dance as a Site of Identity Formation in the American South"

This project investigates the effects of interactions between audiences and diverse performers who practice and present Chinese Dance in the American South. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, this study considers dancers’ understandings of what it means for an aesthetic, gesture, object, or person to be ‘Chinese,’ and their own proximity to ‘Chineseness,’ formalized through dance. Further, the study investigates how interacting with audiences reshapes performers’ visions of ‘Chineseness’ and of themselves. Considering the legacy of early Chinese immigration as a replacement for slave labor, the ambiguous classification of Asian Americans under Jim Crow, and the recent surge in Anti-Asian violence after COVID-19, the American South has been and remains a high-risk place to perform Chineseness. Attending to conflicting concepts of Chineseness popular across audiences, funding agencies, and casts, this project asks: How does publicly performing a marginalized ethnic art reshape performers’ understandings of that ethnic group and of their own subjectivity over time?
Considering Chinese Dance companies in the South often perform for intimate, vocal audiences, the co-construction of identity emerges forcefully in this project. Likewise, Chineseness as ‘perpetual foreignness’ and America’s ‘model minority,’ are both established notions leveraged to uphold White Supremacy; recognizing how performers invoke or resist these visions articulates this project with African American Studies. Using semi-structured interviews, participant observation, surveys, and choreographic exercises, this study employs W.E.B. Du Bois’ concept of double consciousness as one potential means to understand performers’ continuously shifting concepts of self and of Chineseness as an aesthetic, tradition, and mode of identification.