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Ana Isabel Keilson


Columbia University


Making Dance Knowledge: Politics and Modern Dance in Germany, 1890 - 1927

My dissertation, Making Dance Knowledge: Politics and Modern Dance in Germany, 1890 - 1927, is a cultural and intellectual history of the origins of German modern dance. Without offering a Sonderweg argument, my dissertation explains the early relationship of dance in Germany to politics on a national and global scale, which in 1933 resulted in an alliance between German modern dancers and National Socialism. Positing modern dance’s origins as a set of debates among German, American, and Swiss artists (e.g. Émile Jaques-Dalcroze, Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman, Rudolf Laban) about the nature of knowledge and society, I show how these artists articulated dance as a form of knowledge that led to a new way of being in the world. Redefining notions key to aesthetic experience and artistic practice,  such as expression, effort, movement, and nature, German modern dancers transformed the very concept of “choreography” from a practice of staging political and social order to a site for inventing it – in other words, from an earlier, historical practice devoted to the faithful reproduction of steps, to a new, “modern” one of creative invention. For them, the connection of expressive representation to artistic practice through performance, education, and criticism was the enactment of a form of sovereignty. It was precisely this approach that enabled their art to retain a fundamentally anti-modernist character, which, in turn, created the conditions necessary for modern dance’s compatibility with National Socialism in 1933. Chapter 1 illustrates the emergence of ideas in Europe about movement-based knowledge as fundamental to visions of the self. Chapters 2 and 3, examining dancers and utopian artists’ communities in Germany, Switzerland, and the United States, trace these ideas from 1910 to 1921 to show how dance became tied to forms of national identity. Chapters 4 and 5 examine work by Weimar era dance-makers, pedagogues, and critics who folded dance into German cultural neoconservatism after WWI.



PhD (History), Columbia University, expected May, 2016 
Field: Modern European History
Dissertation Committee: Samuel Moyn (chair), Deborah Coen, Lynn Garafola, Andreas Huyssen
Exam Fields: Modern European Intellectual History, 1750-Present; Modern European History, 1789-Present; History of Western Theatrical Dance Since the Renaissance, Art and History in the Frankfurt School

MPhil (History), Columbia University, 2013

MA (History), Columbia University, 2012

BA (English) Barnard College/Columbia University (summa cum laude), 2005


Visiting Guest Lecturer, Department of Dance, Bowdoin College, Spring 2014

Visiting Guest Lecturer, Department of Dance, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, Spring 2014

Visiting Guest Lecturer, Department of Performing Arts, Marymount Manhattan College, Spring 2014

Instructor, Senior Thesis Research Colloquium, Department of American Studies, Columbia University, Fall 2013

Associate Guest Lecturer, Department of Dance, Barnard College, Spring 2012

Visiting Guest Lecturer, Department of Dance, Bowdoin College, Fall 2009

Visiting Guest Lecturer, Department of Dance, Bowdoin College, Fall 2008


Teaching Assistant, Society and Politics in Europe’s Twentieth Century, Department of History, SciencesPo (Paris / Reims), Spring 2016

Teaching Assistant, The History of U.S. Foreign Relations, 1890-1900, Department of History, Columbia University, Spring, 2014

Teaching Assistant, U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-present, Department of History, Columbia University, Fall 2013

Teaching Assistant, History of Modern Germany, Department of History, Columbia University, Fall 2012

Teaching Assistant, World War II in History and Memory, Department of History, Columbia University, Spring 2012

Teaching Assistant, U.S. Intellectual History, 1865-present, Department of History, Columbia University, Fall 2011


A Review of “Kate Elswit. Watching Weimar Dance.” The Germanic Review: Literature, Culture, Theory. Vol. 90, No. 4 (2015), 369 – 372. “Nothing is Wasted: A Review of Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life” Women’s Review of Books. Vol. 32. No 5 (Sep / Oct).

“The Chaos and Quiet of Karen Green,” Women's Review of Books. Vol. 32, No.1 (Jan- Feb 2015), 25-26.

Review of New German Dance Studies, Susan Manning and Lucia Ruprecht, eds. Dance

Research Journal
Vol. 46, No.1 (April 2014), 123-129.

“Her Mad Beauty” Women's Review of Books. Vol. 30 No. 5 (Sep-Oct 2013), 11-13.

Interview: “Curating Valeska Gert: Ana Isabel Keilson in conversation with Wolfgang Müller and An Paenhuysen,” in Critical Correspondence: the Movement Research Journal (July 2011)

Body Madness Catalog (part II),
for Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church (2011)


Paper Presentation, “Epistemologies of the Dancing Self.” Council for

European Studies International Conference of Europeanists, Philadelphia, PA, April 14-16, 2016.

Paper Presentation, “Mary Wigman and the Sovereign Self.” Futures of Intellectual

History Graduate Student Conference, New York University, October 23-24, 2015.

Paper Presentation, “Text und Kontext im Tanz, 1900-1927.” Forschungskolloquium, Lehrstühl für Wissensgeschichte, Institut für Geschichtswissenschaften, Humboldt University, Berlin, January 21, 2015.

Paper Presentation: “Turning Eyes into Ears” Panelist, Sight, Verse, and Canon: Questions of Dancing and Writing in Twentieth Century Germany, US, and Cuba. Society of Dance History Scholars / Congress on Research on Dance (CORD): Writing Dance / Dancing Writing. University of Iowa, November 13-16, 2014.

Paper Presentation, “Organizing Community,” Intellectual and Cultural History Graduate Student Workshop, Columbia University, New York, May 16, 2014.

Panelist: “Movements: Identity and Interdisciplinarity,” at Dance Across The Board Graduate Student Conference, New York University, Feb 12, 2011.

Assistant Director, 40th Anniversary Congress on Research in Dance (CORD), Columbia University, New York, November 8-11, 2007.


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