Dancing through the dissonance – Q&A with Lesley Pruitt and Erica Rose Jeffrey

Posted by Alice Hoad - Wednesday, 27 May 2020


How would you like someone who has read your book to sum it up in one sentence?

LP: This book opens up new understandings on connections between dance and peace through reflecting on existing theories while also exploring how dance can inform our understandings of the everyday practice of peace.

ERJ: This book brings together important considerations for theory and practice through highlighting young people’s voices while exploring the relationship between dance and peacebuilding. It also made me want to get up and move and groove.

What book in your field has inspired you the most?

LP: John Paul Lederach’s The Moral Imagination is one book that I’ve returned to for inspiration by reading it multiple times over the years. Not only has it challenged and enriched my thinking about peacebuilding, it’s also changed a tiny bit of my daily life: The last time I read it a few years ago, Lederach’s statement that ‘The practice of haiku is this: to embrace complexity through simplicity,’ noting that this embrace ‘is a core practice of peacebuilding,’ encouraged me to start a practice of daily haiku writing, which has really helped me think about writing in new and different ways.

ERJ: There are so many both in dance and peacebuilding work! A couple specifically about arts and peacebuilding include: Acting Together: Performance and Creative Transformation of Conflict, (Cohen, Varea and Walker) and The Choreography of Resolution: Conflict, Movement, and Neuroscience (Acland, MacLeod, and Lebaron). I appreciate that both of these books bring together ideas and questions about theory and practice while opening doors for further exploration around arts based peacebuilding approaches.

Did your research take you to any unexpected places?

LP: Yes, working on this research gave me the chance to work in different types of classrooms and community settings with people of all ages—from small children involved in dance-based peace programs to mature age adults serving as mentors for university students involved in peacebuilding—and it was so nice to get to learn from them all. One memory that’s always stuck with me is of a little boy around 6 years old in Washington, DC. When asked what he’d learned that day in a workshop on dance and peace, he explained, “I like green and you don’t like green. And you like pink and I don’t like pink. But we can share our colours and maybe be friends.” Not only was this little guy one of the most enthusiastic dancers I’ve ever met, he could really put the idea of dancing through the dissonance in words everyone can understand!

ERJ: Yes, both physically and conceptually. While conducting fieldwork in the Philippines, one weekend I was asked to be an honorary judge for a cultural dance competition. Luckily there was a panel of local experts to make the important decisions, but I learned a lot (very quickly) about that particular dance form. Conceptually, in our research we explored the concepts of scale and the relationship of local and global perceptions of peacebuilding and I really appreciated being able to hear and share young people’s voices and perspectives.

Which writing process do you use (computer, longhand, dictate, other)?

LP: I like to longhand write ideas to get started. Then I’ll type more detailed first drafts on computer, and then edit them by hand on paper. This also often involves lots of drawing and made up symbols only I would understand.

ERJ: I use a combination of the computer as well as longhand notes and scribbles. I also sometimes take a very physical approach with big pieces of paper on the wall and lots of coloured markers.

Why did you choose to publish with MUP?

LP: MUP has a strong reputation as a university press publishing high quality books, so I was keen to work with MUP and to be in the good company of existing MUP authors!

ERJ: In addition to the fantastic range of international relations books, I was drawn to and greatly appreciate the work of MUP authors around the arts and conflict, such as James Thompson’s, Digging up stories: Applied theatre, performance and war and Dana Mills’ Dance and politics: Moving beyond boundaries.

What are you working on now?

LP: I’m continuing to work on research looking at creative approaches to social change, especially in relation to young people’s participation in, and leadership on, politics and peacebuilding.

ERJ: I’m continuing to explore arts, culture, and creative approaches to peacebuilding with a focus on multiple understandings of space and embodiment in peace and conflict contexts. In the current environment, I am also curious to see how people may have experienced changed understandings of their physicality and space.

If you could go back and give yourself once piece of advice when starting out on this project, what would it be?

LP: Take lots of photos of the fieldwork when possible! (When I forget I always wish I had some later to recall some of the scenes, ideas, and experiences.)

ERJ: Definitely more photos and video, especially for dance related research components. As so many different elements may be at play in a single moment, it is useful to be able to have multiple forms of reference, while also maintaining the human element of the research in visual images.

If you could have been the author of any book, what would it be and why?

LP: The Handmaid’s Tale—as the recent TV adaptation shows, Atwood’s subject matter in this novel remain as relevant and crucial today as they’ve ever been, showing it has stood the test of time, and her ability to address social and political questions that can engage readers so deeply remain incredibly admirable.

ERJ: As our work focused on youth, in this case I would choose A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, a story of young people, imagination, and hope during challenging times.

What other genres do you enjoy reading?

LP: Outside of academic reading, I enjoy a wide range of genres, including young adult fiction.

ERJ: In addition to academic texts I am a fan of science fiction and mysteries, especially when traveling.

Which authors (academic and not) would you invite to a dinner party?

LP: Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Roxane Gay, Cynthia Enloe

ERJ: There are so many authors I would love to invite for dinner, it is difficult to choose and I would definitely need a very big table. For starters…

Mary Shelley, Liz Lerman, Ursula K. Le Guin, Toni Morrison, Madeleine L’Engle, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Hannah Arendt, Barbara Ehrenreich, John Paul Lederach, Cynthia Cohen, James Thompson, Martha Nussbaum, Lisa Schirch


Dancing through the dissonance: Creative movement and peacebuilding by Lesley Pruitt and Erica Rose Jeffrey is available to buy now.

Lesley Pruitt is a Senior Lecturer in Development Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia

Erica Rose Jeffrey is a Director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Institute, Australia


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