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March 24, 2006

thesis update

Posted by dogpossum on March 24, 2006 8:07 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances and thesis

I am editing like a crazy person. Well, preferably like a clever, articulate and focussed academic.

I'm up to the 4th draft of Chapter 2 (Dance as public discourse: Afro-American vernacular dance). Actually, I'm mid-way with draft #4 of Chapter 3 (cultural transmission in dance: the movement of cultural form and practice as ideological and mediated process). This will be followed by the 4th drafts of Chapter 4 (AV media in contemporary swing dance culture: revivalism and the ideological management of mediated dance), Chapter 5 (DJing in contemporary swing dance culture: the collusion of cultural practices in mediated dance), Chapter 6 (institutions in contemporary swing dance culture: swing dance schools and the ideological management of embodied practice via media) and rounding up with a first draft of my conclusion. Then I go back to Chapter 1 (Introduction) to do its 4th draft.

Then I edit for typos/grammar/spelling and all that rubbish. Hopefully to submit in August.

It's all going pretty well, and the supes gave me the thumbs up on my recent effort at making 6 seperate blobs of work one comprehensive 'story' about swing dancers' use of media in embodied practice. It was a matter of juggling writing style, making each chapter support a key thesis (which I can't articulate right now, sorry), and then each point in each chapter support that thesis.

So Chapter 2 is now looking pretty comprehensive (dance as discourse; how to discuss dance as discourse, theoretically and analytically; dance discourse as culturally specific; then considering Afro-American vernacular dance of the 20s/30s/40s as an example, paying most attention to the relationship between the introduction of new ideas/dance steps (mostly through improvisation) and community structures which regulate/manage this process. In other words, how is the representation of 'self' and individual identity (through improvisation, creative 'work') by individual dancers 'managed' by community structures (such as musical structures, social conventions regarding sexuality and public behaviour, etc etc).
I make the point quite clearly that individual self expression in Af-Am v dance (or the representation of self and individual interests and 'difference' in public (dance) discourse) is more flexible than in contemporary swing dance culture.
I see the formal heirachies of teaching and learning (esp in schools) as the reason why there's less tolerance/opportunity for the representation of self/difference in contemporary swing dance culture. And teaching and learning in contemporary swing dance culture is dominated by 'revivalist' ideology - the idea that swing dances are dead, they were great, and they need to be 'revived'.
I explore this in greater detail in Chapter 4, the AV chapter, where I look at the role of archival film in the revivalist project.

In Chapter 3, though, I talk about 'cultural transmission', and consider contemporary swing dance culture, noting how it's a fairly homogenous culture, in fact a predominantly youth/consumer culture, a consequence of the formal pedagogic practices of swing culture. I take Melbourne as an extreme example, looking at how the swing dance school's commodification of dance as a package to be bought and sold via classes has resulted in a homogenous 'market' for this product - white, middle class, hetero kids.
But this chapter is more interesting than that. I argue swing dances' movement into the white American mainstream in the 30s was achieved primarily through the mediation of the form: film and dance studios brought swing dances to the mainstream (with obvious asides to stuff like Afro-American troops interacting with white women, though I argue that the segregation of the day prevented the wide-spread effect some dance historians argue for. I think film and dance teachers were significant - though it was a combination of factors).

I'm most interested in the mediation of swing dances in their movement from Afro-American communites to mainstream America and then into the internaitonal community. There's plenty of work on this stuff, esp in relation to mambo and latin dance and their movement into mainstream America (admittedly in later years).
I'm interested in how film was important. Then I make the point in Chapter 3 that these films represented the racism and segregation of the day in various ways (ie some studios not showing black and white characters on screen together - segregation in-text; racist work-practices in the studios themselves). And then, that revivalist dancers cannot help but reproduce these racist and dodgy themes in using these films as key sources for reviving swing dances. The problem lies in their not critically engaging with these issues in their teaching/researching dance. In fact, I argue quite strongly that swing dancers today are notably reluctant to engage with issues of race and class in their discussions of swing dance history. Which concerns me, esp as 20s and 30s 'Harlem' and 'slavery' seem quite ideologically loaded terms.

Ok, so with all that in mind, I then introduce swing dancers as fans, through their media use, and through their class/age/etc demographics.

Then I say: 'ok, so with all that in mind, what evidence do I have for all that in actual examples from dancers' embodied practice? Where is this shit in the dancing?' And then I do some neat analysis of actual dance stuff, in particular reference to gender and sexuality (because they're key issues in swing culture). And I make the argument that just that fans are engaged in 'textual poaching' - tactical engagments with dominant ideologies and discourses, so too are swing dancers. It's even more interesting when you read Afro-American vernacular dance as embodying tactical resistance to dominant American ideology and discourse of the day - hell, let's be blunt. When you read Afro-American vernacular dance as the dance of people whose history involves racism, segregation, jim crow legislation, racial violence, etc etc. In that situation, of course cultural production will be resistant. Particularly dance, for people of West African descent.

So then I do some neat analysis, basically asking how sexual and gender differences are represented in contemporary swing dance cultures around the world. I look at how, for example, young women in North America use swing dance to explore 'sexual display' within a safe social context, where they may (beyond dance) be unwilling to do things like flash their knickers, wear suspenders for show, shimmy, etc. I'm also interested in stuff like women leading and men following as a way of subverting heternormative social forces. I'm also facinated by local differences - eg blues dancing in Korea and Japan, as opposed to blues dancing in Canada or Australia or New Zealand.

And of course, the most imporant part of all this the role media plays. How contemporary swing dancers use the internet, AV media, etc in all this. How important are swing discussion boards in the way young people in swing dance communities represent sexual and gender differences? I argue that media is very important, and provide some neat examples from different discussion boards, websites and email lists.

Then I move on to AV media in Chapter 4, where I talk specifically about media use in contemporary swing dance culture. I take AV media as an example of one key media form (and practice), and then DJing as an example of the collusion of different media forms and embodied practices - in swing DJing we see dancers using discussion boards, email lists, websites, digitial music technology (from downloading mp3s to DJing from laptops), to research, purchase, discuss and explore music and how to use it. Then I look at how all this stuff functions in embodied practice: how DJs' media use actually functions in their embodied DJing for a crowd of dancers.

In Chapter 5 I look at how all this stuff - media use - is managed by institutions in contemporary swing dance culture. I focus on Melbourne as it has the largest swing dance school in the world, and is a local scene dominated by school discourse (which is, incidentally, capitalist discourse). And I look at how capitalist discourse functions to commodify what was once a vernacular dance - to sell young people a lifestyle product. And, most facinating of all, how they are also sold an ideological 'product' as well. I'm interested in how the ideology and discourse of schools in Melbourne reflect dominant social discourse and ideology in the wider Melbourne and Australian community.

Therefore proving my original argument, that dance = public discourse, where ideology is represented, and that this discourse is representative of the social/political/cultural forces of the wider community in which this community-of-interest is located.

I squeeze the fandom stuff in Chapters 4 and 5 in more detail, mostly to explain specific media practices.


Posted by dogpossum on March 24, 2006 8:07 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances and thesis