Natasha K. Foreman

Natasha K. Foreman

Part-Time Faculty, Music History

Natasha K. Foreman


 Dr. K. (Kelly) Natasha Foreman is a musicologist and composer specialising in Japanese music, dance-music analysis, music theory, and aesthetics. Her current research looks into various aspects of sonic embodiment, ranging from choreo-musical analysis, composition, embodied aesthetics, and performance theory. Since 2010, this research has taken two main directions: sonic afrofuturism and Japanese butoh.

 In 2019, Dr. Foreman was invited to join the Nichibunken International Research Institute for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, Japan (日文研 国際日本文化研究センタ) as a six-month visiting research scholar. Her project, The Sound of Butoh: Theorizing Nation and Tradition in the Music of Butoh Performance, is the first to investigate the music/sound used for butoh dance performances globally. The work involves ethnomusicological field research with butoh companies in Kyoto and Tokyo, research at the Hijikata Tatsumi Archive at Keio University in Tokyo, choreo-musical analysis of butoh, and collaboration with musicologist Shuhei Hosokawa.

Her book The Gei of Geisha. Music, Identity, and Meaning (Ashgate, 2008 and Routledge, 2016) was the first to research the connections between the Japanese geisha, Japanese music history, and the complex parameters of geisha-patron aesthetic experience, and has received high reviews:

  • The Gei of Geisha is a beautiful and much needed work that fits nicely into Japanese musical studies. Scholars and everyday readers alike would gain a new perspective on geisha from this book and, ultimately, because of Foreman’s convincing detail, on what truly makes a geisha an artist her gei (art).” (Ethnomusicology Forum, 2012)
  • “The author has provided the first major scholarly work to explore the musical arts of geisha, and to argue that identity is structured around these arts. “ (Ethnomusicology, 2011)
  • “In this well-crafted book, Kelly M. Foreman takes on the pervasive concept as exploited erotic entertainers, and argues that the center of their professional lives is their dedication to traditional Japanese performing arts. While acknowledging the importance of dance to many geisha, Foreman focuses on those who concentrate on music especially the playing of the shamisen. The book is the most important contribution to literature on geisha since Liza Dalby’s Geisha in 1983.” (International Journal of Asian Studies, 2010)
  • “Cultural skills, and music and dance perhaps more than any other, have evidently long been considered sexy. Foreman navigates these treacherous straits with skill and aplomb, and this volume will be read with interest by anyone who wishes to know more about the inner workings of what must be the least understood world of Japanese performing arts.” (Asian Ethnology, 2009).

Dr. Foreman received her M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology/ethnomusicology with a secondary specialization in anthropology from Kent State University, and B.A. in music theory / composition from St. Olaf College. In 2017, she was a participant of the week-long seminar Japan Performance Theory Workshop hosted by the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. In 1992, she joined the historical legacy of American composers such as Aaron Copeland and Elliot Carter as a summer participant at the Le Conservatoire américain École des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau, France, and was awarded the Prix de Ville for the premiere of her composition Sonate for Duo Celli and Viola. She plays many instruments but concentrates on piano and the Japanese shamisen, having studied nagauta shamisen with one of the world's top shamisen headmasters, Imafuji Chōjūrō IV and continuing to appear with her when she performs in the United States.

She has presented her research for meetings of the Society for Ethnomusicology, PSi (Performance Studies International), CORD (Congress on Research in Dance), The International Institute for Asian Studies at Leiden University (The Netherlands), JAWS (Japan Anthropology Work Shop), MJS (Midwest Japan Seminar), Feminist Theory and Music, and ASAP (The Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present). She also regularly gives pre-performance lectures for performances of classical nagauta at both the Japan Society and Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Dr. Foreman composes music for various contexts and sound sources, and her recent creative focus seeks a unification/merging of the processes of composition and choreography. She created I Stay as a two-hour street performance at the Detroit Artist Village Sidewalk Arts Festival, as an exploration of space, sound, and demographic/geographic permanence. In addition, the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit commissioned her for a piece to include in Farm, Art (a celebration of the nexus of urban farming and art in Detroit), for which she created Heliotrope, a unified work for thirty-six amateur dancers and two violins that plays with ideas of assumed mobility and staged spaces (link to this performance can be found here

Before joining the music department at WSU, Dr. Foreman taught in the WSU anthropology department and served as lecturer from 1998-2000 at Rikkyo University(立教大学) in Tokyo, Japan. At WSU she teaches courses in early Western music history, world music, ear-training, Asian music, anthropology, and Japanese area studies. In 2016 she also joined the faculty of Ballet Detroit (a pre-professional Russian ballet school housed at the Michigan Opera Theater) as dance historian/educator.


  • The Gei of Geisha; Music, Identity, and Meaning (Soas Musicology Series, Ashgate Press, 2008, re-published by Routledge Press in 2016).

Chapters in Multi-author Books

  • “The Perfect Woman: Geisha, Etiquette, and the World of Japanese Traditional Arts,” in Manners and Mischief. Gender, Power, and Etiquette in Japan, ed. Laura Miller and Jan Bardsley, (University of California Press, 2011).
  • "Bad Girls Confined: Okuni, Geisha, and the Negotiation of Female Performance Space," in Bad Girls of Japan: Historical and Contemporary Models of Transgressing Women (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).
  • “Japanese Dance,” in World Music, A Global Journey, 4th edition (Routledge, 2016).

Articles and CD Liner Notes

  • "国境を超え、文化の違いを乗り越えてー日本の伝統音楽を受容するアメリカー," [Crossing Borders, Bridging Cultures: America's Embracing of Japanese Traditional Music], in International Society and the Urban Community: Dealing with a Changing International Community, Tokyo Metropolitan Government: Tokyo, 2000).
  • "Geisha in Contemporary Japan: Conscious Career Choice, Artist Identity, and Way of Life." Journal of the Rikkyo University Language Center 1(1999): 115-26.
  • "The Unsung Heroes of the Karyūkai —The Geisha jikata san." Asakusa 1999. City Magazine of People and Culture 2: 62-3.
  • "Geisha Dance Beyond Exotica in Azuma Odori." The Japan Times, May 27, 1999.
  • CD liner notes for the 10 CD collection of nagauta, 今藤長十郎全集 [The Collected Works of Imafuji Chōjūrō], Nippon Columbia Inc., 1999.
  • "Takigino, Annual Noh Event in Asakusa." Bi-lingual web site (, cultural consultant and English translation for Tokyo ABC Consultants, September 1998.

Invited Reviews

  • Dancecult: [e-] Journal of Electronic Dance Culture, in The Yearbook for Traditional Music, 46, 2013.
  • Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance, by Tomie Hahn, in The World of Music 50/3, 2008: 119-21.
  • Analytical Studies in World Music, ed. Michael Tenzer, in Gamut, online journal of the Mid-Atlantic Society for Music Theory, Vol.1/1, 2008.

Assistant Editorships

  • A Way a Lone: Writings on Toru Takemitsu, (Academia Music: Tokyo, 2002).

Artist in Residencies and Workshops

  • Japan Performance Theory Workshop, Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan, 2017.
  •  Arts Asia Festival 2009, Department of Art and Art History at the University of Kentucky at Lexington, 2009
  • Le Conservatoire américain École des Beaux-Arts (composition/theory), Fontainebleau (France), 1992.


  • UPTF Professional Development Grant, Wayne State University, 2019.
  • WSU Humanities Center Faculty Fellowship in collaboration with Dr. Karl Braunschweig, In Search of the Body: Western Music Theory, Japanese Traditional Music, and New Modes of Composition, 2004.


  • T. Temple Tuttle Prize for 2002, for the paper "Liminas, Eroticism, and the Socio-Artistic Identities of Japanese Geisha," 2002.
  • Pi Kappa Lambda (National Music Honor Society), 1997-present.
  • Phi Beta Delta (Honor Society for International Scholars), 1996-present.
  • Honorable Mention, Denver Women's Chorus Composition Competition, for composition entitled Reflections on Bosnia, 1994.
  • Prix de la Ville de Fontainebleau Pour Thèorie, awarded by the French National Minister of Education, Fontainebleau, France, 1992.


Courses taught by Natasha K. Foreman

Fall Term 2024 (future)

Winter Term 2024

Fall Term 2023

Winter Term 2023

Fall Term 2022

Winter Term 2022

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