A Dance Historian’s Primer in Research Ethics

Presenter: Joellen Meglin; editor-in-chief, Dance Chronicle: Studies in Dance and the Related Arts


While submitting a research protocol to an Institutional Review Board in academe can seem like a formidable task and/or cumbersome red tape for dance researchers, graduate students, and dissertation/thesis advisers, using the lens of research ethics to think through the issues can also present an opportunity for reflection and discernment regarding the integrity of the proposed research.  

I argue that research ethics are integral to the quality of the research produced.  Focusing on ballet history research, especially the methods of oral history and ethnographic study (classic participant-observation), I discuss common pitfalls or oversights of dance researchers striving to attain publication of their research.  These include intentional and unintentional plagiarism, mining of sources cited in footnotes, misquotation, misrepresentation, failure to obtain proper permissions from interview subjects and/or rights-holders, failure to protect the identities of research subjects, and libel.  


I bring forward a number of (anonymous) case studies encountered, along with examples of best practices evolved in my career as editor of an international dance journal, practicing ballet historian, and dissertation advisor, to illustrate how the principles of research ethics may be applied.      

I explore how knowledge and application of ethical principles can help the researcher to interrogate her or his work and to meet the highest standards, particularly with regard to bringing diverse informants’ voices into dialogue with the author’s own voice and larger academic discourses.  I end with a number of thumb rules I have found useful in guiding dance scholars as they prepare their research for publication. 


Joellen A. Meglin is currently editor-in-chief of Dance Chronicle: Studies in Dance and the Related Arts, where she has served as an editor for the past twelve years, spearheading special issues such as “Ballet Is Woman”: But Where Are All the Women Choreographers?  An emerita professor at Temple University, Meglin brought thirteen doctoral students to dissertation completion, created new curricula to her heart’s content, and, among other adventures, collaborated on an original ballet, Crystallina, with her husband, composer Richard C. Brodhead.

Meglin has written extensively on Chicago ballerina and choreographer Ruth Page, including articles published in Dance Research and Dance Research Journal, and chapters contributed to Rethinking Dance History: Issues and Methodologies, 2nd ed. (Routledge, 2018) and Perspectives on American Dance: The Twentieth Century (University Press of Florida, 2018).  Her book Ruth Page: The Woman in the Work is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in 2020. 

Recently, Meglin has turned to reconstruction of Page’s solo choreography, setting Expanding Universe on Jennifer Conley, who performed the work at the 92nd Street Y and the Isamu Noguchi Museum in New York.    

Meglin has also written on the 18th-and 19th-century French ballet, authoring, for example, the three-part series “Behind the Veil of Translucence: An Intertextual Reading of the Ballet Fantastique in France, 1831–1841” (Dance Chronicle, 2004–2005) and the chapter “Galanterie and Gloire: Women’s Will and the Eighteenth-Century World View in Les Indes Galantes” (Studies in Dance History anthology, Women’s Work: Making Dance in Europe before 1800, University of Wisconsin Press, 2008).