Practicing Ambivalence: Taiko, White Women, and Asian American Performance

April 4, 2019 - 4:00pm

Location and Address

Humanities Center, CL 602

What does it mean for white women to perform Asian America through taiko in politically charged times? Taiko is an ensemble drum performance form that originated in 1950s Japan and which has grown rapidly in the U.S. since the late 1960s. While the North American taiko community writ large welcomes practitioners of any background, taiko has historical and social roots in Japanese American history and Asian American activism. A majority of taiko players in the United States identify as Asian American; thus, taiko is a rare site in which white performers are seen not as normal or “unmarked,” but rather as remarkable within Asian American contexts. Based on a chapter from my book, Drumming Asian America: Taiko, Performance, and Cultural Politics, this talk draws on ethnographic interviews and my own history as a white woman taiko performer to consider the ambivalence and other affective dimensions of white women performing Asian America. Rather than focus narrowly on the representational politics of taiko, I illuminate how white women taiko players describe their embodied, lived experiences of performing at the intersections of whiteness and womanhood. Finally, I ask whether taiko (and other culturally specific forms) can become sites in which to forge productive, cross-racial intimacies. 

Speaker Biography:

Angela Ahlgren is Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at Bowling Green State University, where she teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in Performance Studies and Theater History. She is the author of Drumming Asian America: Taiko, Performance, and Cultural Politics (Oxford, 2018). Her writing on taiko also appears in Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings(Oxford, 2017), edited by Clare Croft, and Contemporary Directions in Asian American Dance(Wisconsin, 2016), edited by Yutian Wong, and in Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture(2016). Her current research focuses on Asian aesthetics and racial politics in modern and postmodern dance from the 1960s to the 2010s. She earned her PhD in Performance as Public Practice at the University of Texas at Austin.



Department of English

Department of History of Art & Architecture

Department of Theatre Arts

The Humanities Center

Graduate Program for Cultural Studies

Department of Music

Japan Studies-Asian Studies Center

PhD Program in Theatre and Performance Studies


Poster available here

Angela Ahlgren (Bowling Green State University)