top of page

anthony shay

1968 PhotoShoot UCLA 171.jpg

©UCLA in costumes of the Croatian Bunjevci


artist's website address


GENERAL KEYWORDS: Balkan dances, Cold War, Folk dance, Iranian Dances, Middle Eastern Dance, Persian dance, Russian folk dances, Turkish Folk Dance

CHOREOGRAPHIC WORKS: The Rite of Spring (reconstruction by Milicent Hodson and Ken Archer)

PEOPLE: Aman Folk Ensemble; Prokosch Kurath, Gertrude; Hannah, Judith Lynne; Hekmat Nasrin; Hernández, Amalia; Moiseyev, Igor; Risov, Ilia; Roosevelt, Franklin Delano; Royce, Anya Peterson; Stalin, Joseph; Truman, Harry S.

PLACES: Azerbaijan, Croatia, Oregon, Pakistan, Sardana, Slavonia, Smotra Folkora (Zagreb International Folklore Festival), UCLA


CITATION: ​Interview with Anthony Shay, Susanne Franco, online (12/10/2021). Project “Mnemedance”, Collection Mnemedance (#Mnemedance11) URL:<>, (accessed dd/mm/yyyy). 


general info


Anthony Shay’s interview offers a rare insight into the lineage of Western theatre dance, the process of cross-cultural transmission of dance genres and the geographical displacement of embodied memories. Currently a Professor of Theatre and Dance at Pomona College, Shay is a former choreographer who has created more than 200 works with material coming from traditional dance genres, predominantly from the Balkan region, Middle East and Turkey. As he recounts to dance scholar Susanne Franco, he was first introduced to folk dances as a recreational activity during his college studies which took place at a period of intense cultural fascination with what constitutes folk dance and ethnic identity. During the cold war, the encounter as a spectator with the work of Russian choreographer and “dance diplomat” Igor Moiseyev changed the trajectory of his professional life and inspired him to create the AMAN International Music and Dance Company, a non-professional dance company that gained great visibility across the diasporic ethnic communities in the USA thanks to the voluntary commitment of the dancers and the choreographer. In this frame, he theoretically introduced the etho-identity dances, dance works with ethnic references that are created by a choreographer to be (re-)presented on stage. Ways of dance transmission and issues of authenticity and appropriation in the restaging process include the additional topics of this discussion that recounts the trajectory of an artist-scholar across a professional career of nearly 60 years.

1970s Performance 174b.jpg

Dance from Posavina, Croatia  ©AMAN Folk Ensemble 

interview questions




What is your first personal memory related to dance?


Which dancer informed your way of thinking about dance and choreography?


When did you start defining yourself as a dancer and choreographer?


What kind of physical knowledge do you keep in your body?


Steve Paxton said to be careful of what you put in a body because it is practically impossible to eliminate it. What do you think about this statement?


Which forms of transmission have you experienced as a dancer?


Which forms of transmission have you used as a teacher and choreographer?


To what extent did your incorporated knowledge shape your identity?


What do you mean by “Ethno identity dances”?


How do you negotiate the representation of different ethno identity dances on stage?


Could you contextualize the current debate on reconstruction and reenactment in the Persianate world and its dance traditions?


How did your physical knowledge and embodied consciousness of the past impact your writing about dance as a scholar?


To whom did you choose to pass on your knowledge and the dance legacy you have preserved in your body?

1960s Performance2 117.jpg

Dances from Sumadija, Serbia



ANTHONY SHAY is Professor of Dance and Cultural Studies in the Dance Department of Pomona College, Claremont, CA. He is the author of eight monographs, and author or co-author of four volumes, the latest (with Barbara Sellers-Young), The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Ethnicity (2016). He authored two recent monographs, The Dangerous Lives of Public Entertainers: Dance, Sex, and Entertainment in the Middle East (2014) and Ethno Identity Dances for Sex, Fun, and Profit: Staging Popular Dances Around the World (2016). His latest books are The Moiseyev Dance Company: Dancing Diplomats (Intellect Books, 2019) and Dance and Authoritarianism (Intellect Books, 2021). He has lectured on “What is Popular Music? What is Persian Popular Music?” at Yale University, First Symposium on Persian Popular Music, January 27, 2018, and “The History of Staged Folk Dance” at Siamsa Tire, the Irish National Folk Theatre, Tralee, Ireland, May 11, 2018. He was founder, artistic director and choreographer of the AMAN Folk Ensemble and the AVAZ International Dance Theatre during which he created over 200 choreographies. He received several NEA choreographic fellowships, a California Arts Council Lifetime Achievement Award, and a James Irvine Choreography Fellow.

SUSANNE FRANCO is Associate Professor in Dance, Theatre and Performance Studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and curator of dance events and programs for different Institutions. She is the author of Martha Graham (2003), Frédéric Flamand (2004), and she edited the special issue Ausdruckstanz: il corpo, la danza e la critica (Biblioteca Teatrale, 2006). She also co-edited Dance Discourses: Keywords in Dance Research (2007); Ricordanze. Memoria in movimento e coreografie della storia (2010) and The Oxford Handbook of Dance and Memory (forthcoming) with Marina Nordera; Moving Spaces. Enacting Dance, Performance, and the Digital in the Museum with Gabriella Giannachi, and On Reenactment: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools (forthcoming) with Cristina Baldacci. She was the coordinator for Ca’ Foscari’s contribution to Dancing Museums-The Democracy of Beings (2018–2021), and she is currently the PI of the international research project Memory in Motion: Re-Membering Dance History (Mnemedance; SPIN2 Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, 2019–2022).

bottom of page