The introduction examines Americans’ and non-Americans’ collaborative engagement with national identity through performance, which often produces different results than traditional forms of diplomacy. When San Francisco-based ODC/Dance performed in Burma through the State Department’s DanceMotion USA program, they thought the Burmese dictatorship might keep audiences away. Yet thousands dodged government-created obstacles to attend, and helped the Americans when a glitch threatened the show. Government edicts cannot completely determine how people act: that’s the lesson ODC learned and the lesson the chapter offers by focusing on cultural diplomacy from dancers’ perspectives, understanding dancers as social actors, not just government instruments. Dancers move within bureaucratic strictures, often in a contentious dance around the meaning of “politics.” Across eighty years of history, the chapter examines the private/public structures behind cultural diplomacy programs, including the State Department’s partnerships with the United States Information Agency, the American National Theatre Academy, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
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