Practices of Performing at Senegalese Sabar Dance Events (2019)

Elina Seye

About this exposition

In my PhD thesis Performing a Tradition in Music and Dance (2014), I analyzed sabar dance events as ‘places’ for (re)constructing social relationships, identities, and tradition. In these celebrations, the participants in a sense perform themselves and their relationships to others present, embodying communal conceptions of their social roles and the related norms and values, but sometimes also challenging them. These performances of self can thus primarily be identified as cultural performatives, following Butler, but they still happen in the frame of the dance event, which allows also expressions deviating from the performatives of everyday situations. Here, I will consider how the modes of performance in sabar dance events can be characterized in addition to the obvious repetition and variation of traditional dance genres. Additionally, I will reflect on the value of practical involvement in performance as a methodological tool in ethnographic fieldwork.
typeresearch exposition
keywordssabar, tradition, dance, performance, ethnography
last modified23/05/2019
share statusprivate
affiliationUniversity of Helsinki
licenseAll rights reserved
published inRUUKKU - Studies in Artistic Research
portal issue11.

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id name copyright license
480191 Example 1 Elina Seye All rights reserved
481494 Example 2 Elina Seye All rights reserved
481502 Example 3 Elina Seye All rights reserved

RUUKKU portal comments: 2
Karen Vedel 21/05/2019 at 12:26

The following peer review was presented to the author during the process and has influenced the final exposition. It is here presented in a slightly edited form.


Karen Vedel:


Positioning itself strongly within a discourse where performance studies overlaps with ethnography, the exposition addresses questions relating to the cultural performatives of the improvised solo dancing in Sabar, a dance form/event that is at the same time social and performative. The research, in which the author’s own dance practice has been actualized as a means of soliciting knowledge, engages with both these dimensions.


The clarity with which it frames the improvised solo dancing of the Sabar event as ‘temporary space for a particular kind of performative social interaction’ as well as the subsequent analysis of three different kinds of performances, each of which ‘does’ something different (i.e. re-construct tradition; cultural performatives of self to others; the possibility of constructing alternative selves and realities).


In the section named Dancing for Knowledge, the author argues that her engagement as a dancer in the Sabar dance event has been important for gaining insight into the Sabar tradition and its cultural meanings. It is moreover suggested that the methods of participatory ethnographic research are close to artistic research – even if the outcome is the dissemination of knowledge through verbal forms and other media (e.g. video) rather than a work of art. I find that the latter part of the argument needs to be unpacked more for it to become fully convincing. I should like to know more about the author/dancer’s own experience of ‘making herself known to others’ through the dancing and its impact on both the performative and the analytical dimension of the research?


NB. The artistic research aspect is found lacking from the abstract.


The performance studies dimension of the research is theoretically framed with relevant references to among others Butler, Schechner, Neveu Kringelbach and Heath. The analysis is complemented with three video clips that help the understanding. The research methods seem adequate, although as indicated above, the analytical dimension of the practical involvement warrant further theorisation in order to strengthen the claim of affinity between participatory ethnographic research and artistic research.


The exposition design features six ‘panels’ of text and three video clips, all of which are referenced in one way or another in the exposition. The sequence of the subsections of the text is not entirely clear in the sense that the section entitled Dancing for Knowledge, in which the relevance of the research methods as artistic research is motivated, is placed at the side of the videos and above the bibliography, which suggested that I should read it last. However, I would like for this discussion to be presented earlier and given more weight.


The exposition is well written. Aside from a grammatical slip in the third sentence of the section entitled Sabar dancing, I did not stumble on grammar or language.


I conclude that the submission is publishable with some changes. First and foremost a more thoroughly argued case for the affinity between participatory ethnographic research and artistic research needs to be made. My suggestions in this respect would be to engage in theoretical/critical terms with methodological questions of the two fields. Moreover, it would be interesting to know in more detail about the participation of the author/dance practitioner in the Sabar and how it impacted on the performative dimension as well as the analysis of the event. On a similar note, I suggest that the methodological discussion and the argument stating the research relevance as ‘artistic research’ is given higher priority in terms of the layout/sequencing of the ‘text panels’.


NB. The claim of relevance as artistic research should also be highlighted in the abstract.

nimetön/anonym/anonymous 21/05/2019 at 12:29

The following peer review was presented to the author during the process and has influenced the final exposition. It is here presented in a slightly edited form.


Anonymous Reviewer


This is a solid piece of field research in a foreign and – to the researcher – exotic dance and music culture. The extensive fieldwork is presented by video clips from the research material, filmed on-site and edited by the researcher herself. The potential of the ethnographic method of participant observation in dance studies is realized in the study and presented in a clear manner in the exposition.


As the author says, the method of participant observation as a way of knowledge production in dance studies comes close to artistic research, still the aim of this piece of research is not artistic, but academic. There’s no artistic practice in this research, in my opinion.


Assessment on significance in other disciplines


Folklore studies: It is not without significance to describe and demonstrate the existence of a living tradition in the field. The theory of folklore studies does not gain much of this exposition, though. The Sabar is not described in what distinguishes it from all other living traditions of the world, but rather in what defines it as a living tradition among all the others. The theoretical grounding of interpretations is thin and rests on few of the most read and cited classics (Bauman, Schechner, Goffman, Butler). The analysis and interpretation are sound as such, but somewhat unsurprising.


Ethnochoreology: The way in which participation in the studied dance culture is used as method of inquiry and the self-reflexivity in doing so are unusual, even to ethnographic dance cultural studies. The methods used are highly adequate and sound and they could have taken a larger part in the exposition. Just to exemplify, we can see Wolof women dancing on the video clips, and we are given the information that the researcher stands behind the camera, but she does not figure in the pictures, the way she figures dancing in the field in the text.


Ethical and legal concerns


Publishing the videos without explicit consent of the persons figuring on them cannot be done. I suppose the researcher must have this consent as part of the consent of them being filmed at the dance events. Performers’ right must be observed.




The exposition presents a solid piece of academic ethnographic dance cultural research. The ethnographic method is used to its full potential, even in an innovative way. The great strength of the exposition is to describe, based on extensive fieldwork on-site, a living and vigorous dance and music tradition. The main weakness is thinness of theoretical grounding and lack of theoretical discussion, which leads to a certain predictability of interpretations. The exposition is clearly designed, well written and the videos are of good quality and smoothly edited, all in all the exposition is highly legible.

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