For nearly a century, dancers, anthropologists and scholars have studied dance as an aspect of culture. After working with the late dance anthropologist Katherine Dunham, and beginning doctoral studies I wanted to have a clearer definition around what it was I was doing. I saw myself as a dancer and anthropologist in training … as someone who studied dance within a cultural context. Instead of referring to myself as a dancer and ethnographer or dance anthropologist, the latter term used most often for those who practice what I do, I decided to tap into neolexia and come up with a neologism more precise. Something less loquacious and more linguistically economical. I saw myself as not only studying the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, and “why” of dance from cultures they derived but someone who also studied the “how”. The behavior and its origins, development, and impact and influence on other people, other dances and dance styles, music, other behaviors and even institutions. I wanted to define my work as:

“an area of study encompassing various approaches to the study of dance (broadly defined) that emphasize its cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological, and other dimensions or contexts instead of or in addition to its isolated movement component or any particular repertoire.” (1)

I formed the term by taking the Greek word “ethnos”, meaning nation and putting it before the French word “danser” using the English form of the word. I then added that combination to the Greek suffix “ology” meaning a subject of study or a branch of knowledge. And here you have it!


I have observed some most recently begin to use the term and use it to refer to indigenous dance or non-western world dance forms perhaps due to the use of the term “ethno” within the term ethnodanceology. I however developed the word to include all dance as all dance is ethnic as all cultures have ethnicity. If one is to study only what is considered “ethnic” dance when using this term, they must be aware they are not using the term in its fullest sense.