Creative project with an Anthropology disciplinary focus, mentored by an Anthropology professor

Oregon Swing Dance Culture Documentary


Unfortunately, the swing community in Salem is if not dead, comatose. Our unofficial practices in Sparks are my only regular access to dance. In our neighboring cities of Portland and Eugene, this is far from the case. Swing thrives, it jumps and jives. So what makes a city or space conducive of fostering swing culture? This is the information I want to find out, so I that in fall of 2015, this knowledge can be applied to start a swing dance club on campus.  Our overarching research question is: “What builds a community?”

The creative result of the 8 weeks would be a short 15-20 minute documentary about swing culture across Portland and Eugene. This would be a compilation of interviews with dance hall owners, both serious and casual swing dancers, as well as asking questions to people completely separate from swing dance to gain their perspective.  These interviews would explore just how these thriving communities were constructed. Abstract ideas like space, energy, and social interaction would all be touched on. Abstract ideas give us the space to explore story. The documentary would also chronicle, as a sub-plot, our own growth as dancers, which is imperative to eventually be able to teach new club members how to dance. We would be able to do a dance demonstration.

What I think is interesting about our project is that the research question is geared more towards humanities than the arts. I believe it’s important to integrate all parts of Willamette into the art community, and I think our project does just that. It is not only locally focused, but the creation of a swing dance club on campus would be a way for students who aren’t taking art or dance classes to get involved in those things. This is also our challenge however. While we do need to look at our research through an anthropological lens, it will be equally important to look at it through an artistic one. We cannot favor one over the other.


The nature of our documentary is highly anthropological. Anthropological methods such as interview and participant observation will be our main mode of material collection. I am an intended anthropology major and have taken relevant courses, including Introduction to Anthropology, Anthropology of the Middle East, and Language and Culture. In Language and Culture, we conduct our own research.  Because of this I feel capable of my skills in gathering appropriate and meaningful material to shape into our film. While anthropology is on the border between the social sciences and humanities, it has helped me think about people holistically and deeply in the same way a great novel would.  Understanding people in this way allows space to develop a story around strong characters, which is important in a documentary. Furthermore, I have done minor filming and video editing in the past, and while I am not an expert in either of these areas, I have enough of a handle on them to create a documentary that is not simply informative, but artistic.




  • E-mail dance hall owners requesting filming permission and interviews



Week 1

  • Rough storyboard
    • So as to direct the filming process and ensure appropriate capture of material for the film
    • Storyboarding, in this case, is collecting sub-questions that we want to explore. For example:
      • “How does the physical space of a dance hall build community?”
      •  “How are average people interacting in these dance halls?”
  • Write interview questions
  • Introduction to dance environments.
    • Going into the field
    • Begin developing rapport
    • Figure out who it is important to interview


Week 2

  • Attend dances 5-7 days a week
  • Practices nearly every day and record progress
  • Begin filming
    • Space
    • People dancing
    • Post-dance discussion
      • This entails debriefing our thoughts directly after each social dance we attend to flesh out ideas. These will be filmed.
      • etc.
      • Schedule/conduct first interviews

Week 3


  • Attend dances 5-7 days a week
  • Continue practicing nearly every day and recording progress
  • Filming (see Week 2)
  • Scheduling/conducting interviews

Week 4


  • Attend dances 5-7 days a week
  • Continue practicing nearly every day and recording progress
  • Filming (see Week 2)
  • Scheduling/conducting interviews


Week 5


Documentary Focused Material Assembling



  • Decrease dance attendance to 3-4 days a week
  • Continue practicing nearly every day and recording progress
  • Begin final storyboard
    • In this case, sketching out scene sequences based on footage that we have gathered
    • Begin to answer:
      • What story do we want to tell?
      • What information do we want to present?
      • What questions do we want to answer?
      • Ultimately: What have we learned?

Week 6

  • Decrease dance attendance 1-2 days a week
  • Continue practicing nearly every day and recording progress
  • Early in week finalize storyboard
  • Begin rough cut

Week 7

  • Stop attending social dances
  • Culmination of practicing recorded for final cut
  • Early in week finalize rough cut
  • Begin final cut

Week 8

  • Final cut
    • Color corrections
    • Captions
    • Smoothing audio (soundtrack and ambient noise)
    • etc.
  • Send “Thank you” notes to dance halls and interviewees




  • $400/mo for two months
  • Estimate includes utilities



  • Meals will be primarily prepared by ourselves and shared, thus this is a liberal estimate.
  • Included in this category are other miscellaneous groceries (such as shampoo or dish soap).

Film equipment**


Editing software**



Cover costs for entrance to social dances



  • Dance halls typically charge $5-10 as an entrance fee to social dances as a cover cost for bands/food/miscellaneous.
  • Referring to the timeline, the first four weeks of our project will be primarily dance focused; we will be attending dances 5-7 days per week. Although some of these will be free, a liberal estimate of $50 per week for the first four weeks, and $30 for the next two is reflected here.



Willamette University

Learning by Creating

900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

Back to Top