Epistemology: The theoretical framework behind the knowing of things (i.e., how I know what I know, you know?)
In order to frame my research proposal, a number of key assumptions and theoretical stances must be stated, the first of which is that defining performance is both possible and necessary. If one believes that aesthetic beauty associated with other artistic mediums exists, then one might suppose that this characteristic is transferrable to dance, despite its highly ephemeral nature (i.e. unless captured on video, dance performances exist only in memory).
Furthermore, aesthetic beauty and high-level performance do not always go together, especially where contemporary and avant-garde dance forms are concerned. It then follows that determination of a “good” or “bad” performance must be considered on a case-by-case basis, and is likely to vary from viewer to viewer. As such, this study proposed a purposive sampling model, free from any presumed generalizability.
In week 9, we are asked to think about our research interests, research questions and the research proposal we plan to submit, developing a sampling plan that will allow me to generate the population I want to investigate.
After experiencing a degree of anguish over sampling, I realized a really convenient theoretical perspective of my research proposal:
Generalizability, when it comes to dance performance, is probably not possible.
Nor is it particularly necessary.
Khecari’s Oubliette, a grotesque dance quartet performed in a small box. photo credit: Ryan Bourque
When it comes to an individual’s perceptions of art, characteristics such as aesthetic beauty, technical difficulty, and expressivity are in the eyes of the beholder. Good dance doesn’t have to be pretty, nor does it have to be technically hard or particularly expressive. When I review dance shows, the question of good and bad often comes down to a feeling in my gut, and sometimes my gut surprises me.
So then, if qualitative aspects of dance aren’t generalizable and don’t, ultimately, contribute to overall notions of performance, why am I bothering to try and identify a scale of performance? Well, because I said so….
But really, it I think about the quality of a dancer’s performance with respect to other dancers in a particular company, or two different dance companies performing the same work, or choosing which dance show to see on any given weekend, perceptions of what’s “good” DO matter, to the dancer, her employers, and the audience members who go to see her shows. Perceptions of what makes a performance good or bad is what keeps the business and industry of dance afloat. So, money, really.
As such, I’m proposing a purposive sampling strategy that consists of two local dance companies: one ballet company and one modern/contemporary company. They should be similar in budget, number of dancers, number of annual productions, etc., but they are divided due to the fact that these two factions of concert dance, though the dancers may train similarly,* share little in terms of a desired aesthetic and/or end product. They will be in the same location, with equal access to potential patrons, advertising, and funding opportunities.
Though gender won’t necessarily matter in terms of a particular sample’s perceptions of dance performance, it could, as could the role an individual plays within the company. Men and women differ in the types of movements and roles they portray, and they respond differently to training stimuli. Therefore, groups will be stratified into samples that are controlled by gender, role, and genre of dance. So let me summarize:
All data will be collected in two big lumps, the ballet people, and the contemporary people. Further, we might subdivide the data for cross-tabulation into the following categories:
- Ballet: men dancers
- Ballet: women dancers
- Ballet: men directors
- Ballet: women directors (if we can find one)
- Ballet: men choreographers
- Ballet: women choreographers
- Contemporary: men dancers
- Contemporary: women dancers
- Contemporary: men directors
- Contemporary: women directors (if we can find one)
- Contemporary: men choreographers
- Contemporary: women choreographers
Ideally, each group consists of at least 4-5 individuals, but as each company is likely to have only one artistic director and a small handful of choreographers, it is likely there will be greater representation in the dancer groups.
You may have the curiosity: what distinguishes between directors and choreographers? Sometimes they are one in the same, particularly in small companies, however larger companies often bring in choreographers from outside the company, even from different regions of the country or the world. These individuals bring with them a different set of criteria for “good” and “bad” dance, and variable viewings of dance and past experiences.
I am fortunate in my connections within the Chicago dance community that I already have my eyes on two companies with which I can imagine conducting this study. Is there such a thing as a “purposive convenience sample?”