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January 18, 2007

the thought of dancing in the third person

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 5:06 PM in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances | Comments (0)

If you drop in over here, you'll see that things are sounding a lot like a whole lot of swing dancers with too little to occupy their immediate attention.

I have only two things to add:

1. I wrote my thesis in the first person and began each chapter with an anecdote, not to mention peppering the whole thing with talk about me. This is partly because I was actually spending a bit of time talking about how to do research as scholar-fan (to use Matt Hills' term)/member of the community you're researching. But mostly it was because I am a hopeless narcissist. It simply became ridiculous to write about this stuff without the first person - imagine all this in not-first-person (apologies - this is from a not-final-draft):

My earliest experience with swing dance was framed by university culture. As the social convenor for my postgraduate association in 1999, I was asked to organise a group expedition to a local venue that featured a live jazz band and swing dance classes. I fell instantly in love. Moving to Melbourne in 2001 for postgraduate study, I found the local swing dance community offered a natural complement to the work and culture of academic life, and quickly became a ‘serious dancer’. Five years later, I am well familiar with ‘the zone’ and all its attractions, have devoted countless hours and dollars to its pursuit, and become firmly entangled in both the local and international swing dance community. This doctoral thesis signals not only the completion of years of academic study in cultural studies and media studies, but also my critical engagement with a community and hobby which has played such a large part in my life.

During my time in the swing dancing community, my interest has frequently been arrested by:
1) the encouragement and embodiment of traditional gender roles and social relations in the dance;
2) the ways in which these embodied dance practices and representations of identity are managed by communications media and technology; and
3) by the discursive activities of institutions and organisations within the community.
I am continually surprised by the way traditional gender roles are enforced in contemporary swing dance culture, despite the more liberal examples offered by the African American history of swing dances. I am also struck by the capitalist nature of contemporary swing dance culture articulated by dance schools and institutions, again, despite the social history of African American vernacular dance. These issues have led me to a more comprehensive research project where I asked how embodied dance practice in this community have been mediated by technology and institutions, and what are the effects of this mediation?

Much of what I have observed in terms of media practice in contemporary swing dance culture echoes the literature dealing with media fandom in cultural studies. In this small community of interest, members adopt active and creative approaches to texts and discourse, routinely poaching ideas and structures from official discourses and media texts to create new creative works. Fan studies offers me a means by which to approach my research, not only in terms of theoretical frameworks, but also in terms of considering my role as a researcher who is also a member of the community I am studying. Despite my interest in media use within this community, swing dancers are, above all else, dancers, engaged in embodied discourse and cultural practice, always with an eye to social engagement with other dancers.

A large part of the introduction, from which this bit was taken, is devoted to my figuring out how to talk about and write about a community of which I am a part. I did try writing in the not-first-person. It was mostly ok until I started trying to talk about what it felt like to actually dance. Then it just got dumb.

In fact, one of the major arguments in my work is that the divide between performer and audience in concert dance is a marker of middle class Anglo ideological stuff.

Here's some stuff from the paper I'm trying to write writing.

African American vernacular dance of the swing era, with its emphasis on improvisation and the creative contribution of individual dancers, rather than the prioritisation of choreographed performances and of choreographers as orchestrating artists, presents a public discourse that demands individual contributions. Social standing is assured by the ability to produce improvised or innovative new steps or variations on familiar steps, making public contributions to public discourse, representing the self in community discourse. A popular phrase in contemporary swing dance culture, shouted to encourage dancers in competitions or in jams or battles on the social dance floor, epitomises this notion: “Bring it!” And what is being brought to this discourse is an authentic or convincing self. Make it real or dance real feelings (whether these are anger or joy or derision or ironic humour), or stay off the floor.
...and then...
Ward makes this distinction: “there is a categorical divide between dancers and the audience in performance dance …that does not exist between dancers and spectators in social dance, where those roles are interchangeable” (18). I read this dynamic relationship between the roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘dancer’ in social or vernacular dance as a clear example of the ways in which readers participate in the making of meaning in textual interpretation. Thomas DeFrantz describes the call-and-response between performers and audiences in African American music and dance in "Believe the Hype", arguing that this structure is carried on into other media forms, and he takes music video and film as his key examples.

In the case of dance, the text is a dance, or a dancer’s body, or just ‘dancing’, and the reader makes meaning through reading this text not only as a spectator, but also through their knowledge as dancers. This ability to make meaning even from unfamiliar choreography is facilitated by the cultural knowledge of movement that we all learn as social beings within a community. We know that this is dance, we recognise it as such in this moment, because we have danced, we have seen dance before. We have occupied and are occupying the roles of spectator and performer and are culturally familiar with this as dance.

I can promise you only that more quotes from my thesis will be forthcoming. No one will ever read the bloody thing if I don't, and fuck, we endorse strutting in our house.
I will also, no doubt, continue to quote from papers until I get them under control. I am working at home, alone, and don't see another acka type person more than once or twice a semester. This is the online equivalent of talking to yourself.

But, wait, my second thing:

2) If the first person is using 'I' and the third person is saying things like "dogpossum disapproves of most things" and "today dogpossum will take her tea at her desk, though she will consider wearing pants so as to avoid unfortunate scorchings", what's the second person? Is it (to make oh, perhaps another quote from a little thing I've just finished)...

In the zone, you respond without thinking, your senses taken up by the music, by your partner and by your own emotional responses in a state or way of being that can only be described as – thinking with the body.


I think this is the sort of question that &Duck could answer.

.... look, I'm still giggling at the thought of dancing in the third person. One of the indelible rules of partner dancing is that you have to stop thinking to make it work. And one of the most excellent bits of my research has been the way thinking academically about dancing on the dance floor is the one sure way of having a really crap dance.

oo, oo, I'd really like to write a bit about choreography and the 'third person' in that process. There's some really fabulous stuff written on the choreographic process and its ideological function/context. I'm a big fan of the idea of improvisation as choreography, which suggests that you make shit up as you go along, so the new steps you create are necessarily function-first. This is of course in direct contradiction with the sort of tortured-artist-in-an-ivory-studio idea that gets trundled along in ballet and concert dance (and much of dance studies - you should see how excited they get about the idea of geneologies of dance - where they trace the influence a particular teacher had on a line of dancers/students).

[edit: oops. forgot some references:
DeFrantz, Thomas. “Believe the Hype!: Hype Williams and Afro-Futurist Filmmaking.” Unpublished paper. Spectacle, Rhythm and Eschatology: A Symposium. University of Melbourne, Melbourne, 24th July 2003.

Ward, Andrew. "Dancing around Meaning (and the Meaning around Dance)." Dance in the City. Ed. Helen Thomas. London: Macmillan, 1997. 3-20. ]

[another edit: I also like the way it's assumed that blogging is about telling the truth. Whether you're writing with emotional honesty or with careful logic and supporting linkage. Surely I'm not the only one who's digging the implied gendered assumptions about writing here?]

Posted by dogpossum on January 18, 2007 5:06 PM in the category academia and clicky and lindy hop and other dances


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