Dancing archives – archive dances: Exploring dance histories at the Radcliffe College archives
The purpose of the study is to explore the Radcliffe College Archives at Harvard University's Schlesinger Library in order to discover a lost history of dance as an extracurricular activity at Radcliffe College during the first half of twentieth century. Using archival story-ing as a methodology, an approach in which narrating the archival processes elucidates the researcher's actual encounter with archives and archival sources, three archive stories were created.
The first archive story, "The Strongest Girl in Radcliffe College," focuses on an encounter with the archival material of Eleanor Stabler Brooks, a student at Radcliffe College in the early 1910s. It illuminates ideas of how young women were beginning to think of themselves as physical beings—as females who could compete, not just for social reasons, but also for the pure joy of physical accomplishments. In the second archive story, "The Teacher who Danced with Knives," the archival journey leads to Katharine Schroeder, a teacher of dancing at Radcliffe College during the late 1930s and early 1940s. It sheds lights on an innovative teacher who could engage the talents and interests of students as performers of a new American dance. The third archive story, "From Dancing Elephants and Men at Radcliffe," explores the gym suit in the early 1910s and the male Harvardian entering the female Radcliffian dancing space in the late 1950s. This archival narration provides insights into how both men and women were questioning limitations put on their bodies by enforced gender roles and how they navigated and moved through forty years of restrictive spaces at Radcliffe College.
The three archive stories illuminate the various entries, crossroads, and paths that the archival researcher came across during his actual "dance encounters" at the Radcliffe College Archives, giving profound insights into what it means to walk in the footsteps of Radcliffe dance history. Narrating archive stories offers a new approach to the writing of dance history that brings the archival researcher into the discourse and opens new readings of and possibilities for historiographies in the past and future.