Dancing my true dance: reflections on learning to express myself through ecstatic dance in Hawai'i


  • Lucy Pickering Oxford Brookes University




While I was doing fieldwork with hippies and drop outs in Hawai'i, my mother came to visit. During her visit I took her to an ecstatic dance. At this dance one of my research participants, Stan, told me, "Lucy, I've been watching you dance today and you've really learned to express yourself". Discussing it later, my mother remarked, "Yes, but what he meant was that you've learned to dance like everyone else". In this paper I explore how the same piece of dance could be interpreted so differently by these two observers. I identify the importance of "acquired movement vocabulary" for rendering improvised dance intelligible to observers, so that Stan, trained to identify the point of such a dance - self-expression - through my dance could see self-expression where my mother, trained in observing how well her daughter fits in with others, saw something entirely different.

Author Biography

Lucy Pickering, Oxford Brookes University

Lucy Pickering completed her PhD at Manchester University, "Othering America: An Ethnography of US 'Drop Outs' in Hawai'i", in 2007. Her interests include white, middle class "alternative" identities and substance use and she currently works in the substance use field, specialising in heroin use, recovery and embodiment. She can be contacted at at lpickering(AT)brookes.ac.uk