Dancing to Democracy: An Empirical Analysis of Helen Tamiris’ “Dance for Walt Whitman” as a Motivator for Social and Political Involvement

By Angela Banchero-Kelleher, Nichole Ortega and Barton Poulson.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Two studies evaluate the effects of participating in dance, as a form of visceral, engaged learning, on conceptions of the “American Idea” and on voting behavior. Dance for Walt Whitman by Helen Tamiris was recreated on a company of 22 dancers, who, in Study 1, read articles relating to the American Idea and kept guided journals. Participants were very positive, indicating that the experience had given them a much better understanding of the American Idea and their roles as citizens, as well as increasing their motivation to actively participate in civic life. Study 2 complemented this finding by assessing a behavioral measure of civic engagement—voting—and by including respondents who did not perform in Whitman. While small sample sizes prevented the effects from reaching statistical significance, the results were generally positive: those who participated in the performance or viewed it were more likely to have voted than those who were not connected to the performance. In addition, there was suggestive evidence that dance participants who did not vote in earlier elections, despite being eligible, were more likely to vote in the most recent elections that were those who were not involved in the dance. Taken together, these 2 studies support the theory of dance as a powerful form of engaged learning that can contribute to civic involvement and understanding of the “American Idea.”

Keywords: Dance, Helen Tamiris, Walt Whitman, Social Change, Voting, College Students

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 4, Issue 6, pp.315-326. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.218MB).

Angela Banchero-Kelleher

Assistant Professor, Department of Dance, Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah, USA

Angela Banchero-Kelleher, MFA, is an Assistant Professor of Modern Dance at Utah Valley University. She has had a professional career spanning over twenty years, including 15 years with Repertory Dance Theatre. Recent performances include dancing with RDT this past spring and Deyodances this fall. Her performance/teaching career has taken her to venues worldwide allowing her to share her view of dance. Her choreography has been performed in 2 ACDFA gala shows as well as at UVU, University of Wyoming, and University of South Florida. Her research interests are centered around dance as a vehicle for social and political activism and she is currently working on a project that explores our relationship to water.

Nichole Ortega

Assistant Professor, Dance, Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah, USA

From 1984 – 1990 Nichole trained with Jacqueline P. College as a member and soloist with Utah Regional Ballet. She received a BS degree in Health Education and Dance Education at Brigham Young University in 1994. For ten years, Nichole worked as the modern dance educator and Dance Company Director at Payson High School in Payson, Utah. During this time she earned a MA degree in Dance at California State University, Long Beach. Currently Nichole is an Assistant Professor at Utah Valley State College, where she teaches ballet, modern, and other core courses. She is an active member of Utah Dance Education Organization and of the National Dance Education Organization, is the Arts Representative for the Utah Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, and is the Utah State Office of Education High School Dance Endorsment Representative.

Barton Poulson

Associate Professor of Psychology, Behavioral Science Department, Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah, USA

Barton Poulson is an Associate Professor of Psychology in the Behavioral Science Department at Utah Valley University, where he teaches the research core. His earned his PhD in Social and Personality Psychology at the City University of New York after having studied Psychology and Industrial Design at Brigham Young University. His current research is focused on aesthetics, particularly on how design, architecture, landscape architecture, and urban planning can serve to develop aesthetic awareness. He has also conducted experimental research addressing poetry, photography, music, painting, and dance.


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