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January 4, 2005

afro-americn vernacular dance and the dance act: historicising lindy hop

Posted by dogpossum on January 4, 2005 12:26 PM in the category

OK, so it seems this chapter on the dance act has two parts or key points.

1. Presenting an argument for contemporary swing culture as an Afro-American vernacular dance. Or a dance drawing on this heritage.
2. Presenting a discussion of contemporary social and face to face dance practice and culture.

I am interested in the role of the media in these two areas.
In the first part, I'm interested in the extent to which history is present in contemporary swing discourse - how is swing culture historicised or, conversely, ahistorical?
With that in mind, I'm examining the ways in which a sense of historical context or history is communicated within and between swing communities. I discuss sites like Savoy Style whose emphasis is on the history of the dance and swing websites which provide briefer, potted versions of history like mine on
Free Swing Press
. Interestingly, the Melbourne schools aren't too keen on providing any history of the dance on their websites, though it's a fairly common feature on sites like the Perth Swing Society's website, and on similar sites overseas. I’m wondering if limiting the dissemination of this knowledge – or deprioritising it in favour of group/school identities – is a useful way of fixing the group’s identity on certain terms which emphasise the closed, school-identity, rather than a wider, more decentralised sense of ‘swing community identity'. Obviously, it's harder to control the interpretation and meaning of history in the latter state, which might lead to a re-construction of power dynamics and systems of privelege in swing communities.
On the other hand, Jive Junction, an American site, provides a fairly authoritative history of lindy hop styles in Peter Loggins’ article on this page. The key point of issue here, lies in Loggins’ engagement with the way histories of the dance have been employed by various groups to cement their own authority. ‘History’, here is not so much distinctly Afro-American or reaching into the pre-history of lindy hop, but concerned more with the geneology of lindy hop itself.

In this discussion of the uses of different media forms in historical swing discourse, IÂ’ll also mention of the role of archival footage from the 'original swing era' and discussions of musical geneaology in swing culture, though IÂ’ll leave more complex discussions for later chapters.

All of this is relevant to a discussion of face to face dance acts – actual, real-life dancing. The first section argues that swing dancing today is a contemporary incarnation of Afro-American vernacular dance. And that Afro-American vernacular dance embodies various discursive themes and ideological approaches not only to dance but also to communication and community which are fairly exciting for a feminist project like mine.
This attention to Afro-American history also allows me to manage some of the issues surrounding positioning swing culture as a diaspora. Diaspora is almost always a racialised or ethnicised concept in cultural studies. While I don’t have a strong history in race or ethnicity studies, I don’t think these matters can be overlooked in swing: this was a black dance developing from the slave history of an oppressed American people. And it’s been adopted by white, middle class kids in urban Australia. I want to know how this history is present or managed or re-presented or negated or whatever by the contemporary cultural context. Is this another example of cultural imperialism or appropriation, or perhaps an interesting example of a more dynamic cultural process? I see media forms – mass media communication – as playing a part in this use of Afro-American vernacular dance culture by contemporary Melbourne swingers.

So in the first part of this chapter I outline lindy hop and swing dances in terms of their history as an Afro-American vernacular dance. I make an argument for this history or context or identity as potentially subversive, dynamic, transgressive, etc – really, a dance-form which does ‘textual poaching’ in a very satisfying way.
In the second part I discuss the extent to which this potential is actually realised in contemporary Australian swing communities, by discussing f2f swing dancing in Melbourne on these terms.
I look for instances of poaching, tactical resistance, feminist-friendly stuff and – conversely - structural strategies of discursive control in contemporary, f2f swing dance.
I do all this through an analysis of f2f dance interaction with pays particular attention to the themes raised by the first section. How are elements like derision, challenge, imitation and mocking present in contemporary swing dance? how are these tools for subversion (or disempowerment) taken up by different dancers?
My analysis in this section centres on gender and sexuality, primarily in response to the limitations of space and time, but also as part of my own project as a feminist swing dancer to find a tenable position on the dance floor for myself. But attention to gender and sexuality is also useful in a more general sense, as the employment of various strategies and tactics in the negotiation of gender and sexuality in swing discourse indicates the more general ideologies at work, and their notion of identity and what it is to be a swinger. Swing dance culture, around the world, is heavily informed by gender and gendered identity. It simply makes sense to hang a discussion of identity and shared, communal identity on this issue.

Posted by dogpossum on January 4, 2005 12:26 PM in the category