Andrée Grau, 1954 – 2017

The sudden and unexpected death of Andrée Grau on 27 September 2017, while teaching in Clermont Ferrand in France, dealt a severe blow to the international development of the Anthropology of Dance in which she was a uniquely vital, devoted, and transformative force.  A great teacher, fine scholar, sympathetic researcher, and warm human being, Andrée’s absence is keenly mourned by her family, colleagues, students and friends.

Born in a Swiss mountain village on 17 March 1954, Andrée initially trained in ballet before moving to London to undertake a study of the Benesh Movement Notation System at the Institute of Choreology, from which she graduated with the qualification of A. I. Chor in 1976. Her anthropological interest was already evident in her final dissertation on the Somes dances of Uganda. Full academic training in anthropology was undertaken at Queen’s University Belfast where, under the charismatic and influential teaching, mentoring and intellect of John Blacking, she pursued both her masters and doctoral degrees. Both degrees focused on dance, and the masters, following Blacking’s field interest, addressed problems in the analysis of dance style, with special reference to the Venda of South Africa. Her field research for her doctorate, which she completed in 1983, was undertaken among the Tiwi people of Bathurst and Melville Islands in North Australia.

In 1986 Andrée became assistant director of the Pan project, an Inter-Cultural Performing Arts Research project based at Goldsmiths College, a role she held until 1989. Committed to the academic establishment of the anthropology of dance, she undertook a number of part-time lecturing roles both in anthropology and dance, notably at Richmond College, the London School of Contemporary Dance, the University of Surrey, and Goldsmiths College where, together with John Baily, she successfully tutored her first doctoral candidate in dance anthropology. Moving as a Senior Research Fellow to the department of Dance at the University of Roehampton in London in 1993, she later secured a Senior Lecturership there, becoming Head of the subject in 2000, and Professor of the Anthropology of Dance in 2009.

Andrée continued to attract research funding at the University of Roehampton, notably with a large Leverhulme grant, “South Asian Dance in Britain: Negotiating Cultural Identity through Dance” (1998-2001), which was at the time a pioneering inquiry. Later she assumed the role of associate director of the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Research Centre for Cross-Cultural Music and Dance Performance, in partnership with the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, and the University of Surrey.

Strongly committed to building the discipline, in 1997 she established a Masters programme in Dance Anthropology, and in 2012 together with colleagues in Norway, France and Hungary, pioneered the prestigious two year Erasmus Mundus programme, “Choreomundus International Master in Dance Knowledge, Practice and Heritage”. The programme has drawn scholarship students from over fifty countries. The dissemination of anthropological understanding of dance constituted a life-long crusade for Andrée who injected her passion across academic publications, into the fostering of doctoral, masters and undergraduate students, and—beyond the walls of academia—into the dance profession, the media, and children’s audiences. She was extremely proud of her children’s book on dance (Grau, A., 1998, Eyewitness Dance, London: Dorling Kindersley), in the Eyewitness series, which was translated into several languages. Andrée well understood the need to develop cultural tolerance and appreciation from an early age, and she was strongly committed to combatting racial intolerance and social injustice.

As a Fellow of the RAI, Andrée was a member of the reinvigorated Ethnomusicology Committee and she helped organise a number of seminars devoted to dance. She was extremely active on the international conference front, presenting regularly at the International Council for Traditional Music Study Group on Ethnochoreology’s Symposia, the US-based Congress on Research in Dance, and the European Association of Social Anthropologists.

Andrée’s publications testify to her anthropological grounding in comparative culture with a strong focus on the anthropology of the body, sensory anthropology and, developing Blacking’s work, on dance as power and an innate capacity of humankind. Sadly, she never completed a book on the Tiwi, nor on the Indian dancer-activist Sarabhai family. The latter work was however close to completion, and may well be published posthumously. Her extensive knowledge of Tiwi dance abounds in numerous articles, while her 2016 article “Why People Dance: Evolution, Sociality and Dance”. (Journal of Dance, Movement and Spiritualities 2 (3): 233-254) tackles issues of evolution and sociality in territory where none but the brave, well informed, and rigorous should tread. She possessed all three of these qualities. In 2006 she produced (with her colleague Georgiana Wierre-Gore) a much needed edited book presenting an evaluative history of the field (Anthropologie de la Danse, Broché). A co-authored extensive essay on the anthropology of dance is due to be published in Ethnology, Ethnography and Cultural Anthropology (UNESCO). Her contribution to the field is extensive and built on solid foundations, particularly through her students who can be found carrying the mantle for the anthropology of dance across the world.

Vivacious, dedicated and loyal, and a great raconteur, Andrée was profoundly interested in people—an essential quality for an anthropologist, in her case stemming from empathetic curiosity, an infectious sense of humour, and a real generosity of spirit.  She is sadly missed.

Andrée is survived by her husband Dominique Bernard, who accompanied her on fieldwork among the Tiwi, and their two sons, Julien and Aristides.

Andrée Grau: Photograph by Suparna Banerjee, n.d., reproduced with permission.



To cite this article:

BUCKLAND, THERESA. 2018 'Andrée Grau, 1954 – 2017'. Obituaries. Royal Anthropological Institute, March 2018. (available on-line: