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October 31, 2008

firehouse five

My desire for the Firehouse Five (specifically this album) has forced me to think, even more seriously (as in, will probably do it) about emusic.
This band is in the vein of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, the Firecrackers and other recreationist bands. Excepting the Firehouse Five are actually from the revivalist period (mostly). I've just bought this CD, but I think I could go on and on and on. I know it's tighty-whitey cultural appropriation, but dang. The quality is good. And, well. You know. I want it. And thinking about music means I don't have to think about the masses of reading I have left to do.

But the sudden plummeting dollar has meant that buying CDs is expensive, mostly because of the postage. I like to have the liner notes, emusic will hit me with an extra bill each month, but... instant music. Sweet. Cheaper music. Double sweet. I think I will use it for 'taster' songs, finalising my departure from itunes, and for albums by newer artists where I don't need the liner notes. I think I'll also keep back up copies on CD with copies of the album cover (just in case, and because I'm a bit ob-con).

"firehouse five" was posted by dogpossum on October 31, 2008 1:09 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances and music and objects of desire

October 30, 2008

teaching, dancing and making place space

Only half way through an article on taste (G. Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139), I'm struck by the discussion of the ways in which 'place becomes space'. How does a room become a 'living room', or a house become a 'home'? Specifically, Hawkins is discussing (in the quote below) the ways in which children living in our homes force us to articulate the 'rules' of living in shared space. Or, in line with the discussion she presents, the ways in which articulating these rules gives us the chance to become reflexive about the way place is made into space by use. This isn't exactly new stuff (this article alone was published ten years ago, and develops Barthes' even earlier discussion of the cinema as place), but it suddenly seems important to me. Here's the section that made me think:

Rules, then, are systems of order - they allow us to project ourselves into the world and project the world back to us. Rules are guides for how to act, how to be in t his space. Rules discipline in a productive sense: they produce meaning, they organise, they are creative, they make inhabitation possible. Rules are embodied in things and actions, they communicate. Rules are also specific, they take place in situ, each room is a unique system of rules and a unique network of power because rules and regulatory practices are provisional, they constitute objects for their own practice. And children elicit rules, for Wood and Beck they are the ultimate barbarians, they have to be domesticated and in the process of prescribing rules, adult values and meanings become manifest. Adult order is constituted and so too is the never ending struggle to establish it as dominant (Hawkins 128).

The thing that struck me, here, is the way in which pedagogy - teaching - makes us articulate and become aware of our assumptions about space/place. Teaching in universities forces me to think about the ways the material I am teaching 'work' in a broader social and cultural context. The most difficult parts of teaching cultural studies (for me) lie in teaching 'class' or 'power' or culture as articulation of/space for the negotiation of identity, class, power, etc etc etc.

The part I have trouble with is teaching this stuff in the context of the old school neo-Marxist cultural studies tradition. In that context, this discussion is, ultimately, geared towards social change. Teaching or study or research is not (and should not, it is implied), be neutral. It should be a part of a broader social project. Or, more plainly, activism. For me, one of the ways I justify what I do is by framing it as activism. Women's studies doesn't make sense, for me, without feminism.

I am excited by the idea of this stuff as having value or usefulness. It's not simply ideas or theory in space - it has a job to do. It is a tool. It's something we can use. Being raised by the sort of people who didn't tolerate cruelty or injustice (social worker, decent person, animal activist...) has made me particularly aware of my responsibilities as a person. Simply, if I'm going to live here, I have to play nice. I have to do what I can to make things better for other people (and for myself as well). More clearly, I have a responsibility to play nice and be useful and helpful. I am sure there's some scary gender stuff in there (isn't that the way little girls are raised? To care, to be useful, to be helpful, to assist? Perhaps I should think more about leading or inspiring caring or begin project which require help?). But I find it makes me feel good to give a shit, and it also gives me purpose; it gives me reason for doing the things I do.

At any rate, teaching cultural studies has been difficult when I've been teaching wealthy kids at big, rich unis. I have found myself articulating this stuff in terms of 'responsibilities'. When I was teaching this stuff to less privileged kids, I found that that approach was just plain bullshit. It became a matter of 'rights'. This is one of the stickiest sticking places for me, teaching this stuff. And teaching - the breaking down and remaking and exploration of ideas - forces me to become aware of and to engage with my ideas and the ideas of authors at hand.

In another, connected point (where ideas must have practical applications), I'm absolutely struck by the way teaching works (in this context) in dance. I wrote quite a bit in my thesis about institutionalised pedagogy as a way of shaping ideology, or making ideology flesh. I placed it in opposition to vernacular dance practice - or learning on the social dance floor through more osmotic modes. Both are ideologically shaped and shaping practices. But I have trouble with pedagogy as capitalist practice - dance classes as product to be sold and bought... well, when it happens within a broader institutional context. Mostly because 'selling dance' on a larger, organised level demands homogeneity, and demands the disavowel of heterogeneity. In other words, it's difficult to teach dance (in this context) without creating right/wrong binaries. The right way is, of course, the product you are buying. Everything else is wrong, and hence undesirable; you wouldn't want to waste your money on it. Brand loyalty thus achieved.

But, continuing with this, I'm interested in the way dancers make 'dance floors' out of ordinary places. Hawkins refers to the role of emodiment (or bodies) in this process, largely via Barthes and his discussion of the bodily experience of the cinema (and at one point there was a reference to Frith** and taste, and there is of course reference to de Certeau). With dancers, this sense of embodiment is explicit.
The whole notion of 'floor craft', for example, where dancers learn (or choose not to demonstrate) the ability to dance 'safely' on the floor, not kicking or bumping into other dancers. Floor craft is a story of sociability and communitas, but it is also a story of social power. Which couples have the greatest liberty to ignore these rules? The most advanced. When is the idea of 'sharing the floor' set aside? In jam circles, where dancers display their abilities and status.
There are countless other examples. Lindy bombing involves groups of dancers descending on a 'non dance space' with music and dancing spontaneously (and often illictly). DJing functions as a way of making a place 'space'. DJs often speak of the 'feel' or 'vibe' or 'energy' in a room - a palpable, physical emotion and sensation - and the ways in which they manipulate that experience. The very act of dancing, therefore, not only creates space, but - far more importantly - creates an emotional, social space as well. Sharing a dance floor is about engaging in a non-verbal social discourse which is all about the body. In fact, without the body, the space collapses back into place. It might carry echoes, but it is, essentially, nothing without the dancers.
I'm suddenly reminded of way I think about DJing the first set of the night: I imagine it as 'warming' the room. Sometimes this is a physical warming, but most of the time it's a social, ideological, emotional, cultural, creative warming. I need to build the vibe or energy before I can manipulate it.

And to bring all this back to rules and articulating rules and teaching... dance classes are one step in the process of socialising dancers and teaching them how to make space out of place. I could argue that formal dance classes are in fact directly contributing to the breaking down of space - busting the vibe - because they insist on hierarchies and formalised, articulated modes of communication, but I'm not sure it's that simple. I do know, though, that the discourse of formal, institutional, commodified pedagogy is an impediment to the process of making dance places spaces. This is because teaching is about verbalising dance and about shifting the way we 'think' dance from the body to the brain and language. And any dancer will tell you that the sweetest, most satisfying moment of dancing comes when you stop thinking or articulating and become thoroughly and completely in your body.

Roland Barthes 1989 “Leaving the Movie Theatre” The Rustle of Language Uni of California Press, Berkeley, pp 345-249.

Michel de Certeau 1984 The practice of everyday life University of California Press, Berkeley, pp. xi-xxiv.

Simon Frith 1996 Performing Rites Oxford UP, London.

Gay Hawkins ‘TV Rules’ UTS Review 4.1 May 1998, pp 123-139

"teaching, dancing and making place space" was posted by dogpossum on October 30, 2008 1:57 PM in the category academia and djing and lindy hop and other dances and teaching

October 29, 2008

i'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-mr-chips hippy teachers

So I've been thinking a lot about sessional teaching and it's advantages/disadvantages. On one hand, I'm utterly convinced that it's exploitative - it is the grape picking, the piece-working of the education industry. Working conditions are not good. The pay-per-hour rate seems good, but isn't really a return due the vast amounts of time tutors spend preparing for classes. While there's the argument that repeat-teaching is more cost-effective for tutors, in practical career terms, there is no reason beyond professional networking to teach a subject more than once - it's not going to look terribly good on your resume. Most tutors don't have an office on campus - they usually share space with other tutors. I use a conference room. This has some serious drawbacks: students are less likely to drop in for assistance (an advantage for full time staff, but no good for students). Staff are unlikely to drop in for a chat, to foster collaborative relationships (a topic of great issue to employers) or to provide a little incidental mentoring. Most sessional tutors, though they may take the time to peruse and pilfer the departmental stationary cupboard (I wish I knew where mine was), are more likely to spend their money on printer toner, photocopying paper, pens and bandwidth on teaching. We shall not even begin to discuss the computer facilities available to sessional teaching staff. And let's not even approach the difficulties of working in an industry with mentors and employers and full time colleagues who are increasingly depressed, frustrated and angry with their own working conditions (I have a theory: sessional staff are mentored in dissatisfaction as much as teaching techniques, particularly as most out-sourced tutors are hired by the most desperate and overworked staff).

So sessional teaching is not a particularly excellent position for the tutors. I'm not even sure it's a good deal for employers: casual staff who may at whim depart for sunnier climes, casual staff who, while experienced in sessional teaching may not have the research skills, interests or CV of more permanent teachers.

I have heard a number of arguments for sessional teaching - casualised teaching.
1. One can depart for sunnier climes on a whim. Hm. I think that I would trade secure employment for the suspect advantages of uprooting and repositioning.

2. One can pick and choose staff members to teach with, thus securing some sort of professional network which extends beyond one's supervisor or even one university. Again, I'm not convinced. Most of the 'early career academics' in my position teach - or have taught - at more than one campus, in one city or more. This does give you the opportunity to meat more staff, but it also usually means that the staff you're meeting are incredibly stressed and have little time or energy for mentoring or ... whatever else it is you're supposed to get out of networking. Teaching across universities also prevents you digging in at one institution - making a little nest, really cultivating proper, working mentoring relationships and contacts and perhaps setting yourself up for collaborative research projects or even - gold of golds - research funds.

I can't really think of any other reasons which are even half as convincing.
I have been trying to convince myself that there are avenues for some sort of tactical exploitation of my own exploitation. I'm not really buying it, I'm afraid. But what have been the advantages of teaching across so many universities and departments?

1. I've been able meet and work with some amazing staff. All of these, but 2 (in the four universities I've taught at) have been middle aged woman who I have admired, respected and ultimately wanted to be. But I've also seen how gender works in university heirarchies. It is women (and the odd reconstructed bloke) who end up with the stooge's share of heavy-teaching loads. And while they've been wonderful to meet and work with (and certainly fabulous in terms of the old girls' network), I often wonder if it might be a good idea to attach myself to the types of academics whose ambition and general cutthroatedness have helped them avoid the need for sessional assistants. But then, would I want to work with that type of person?

2. I've learnt an awful lot. I've taught pretty much the same topics and readings and ideas, and had taught the same stuff across the five universities I've been involved with. But each department has had a different name: English department; Cultural studies program within an English department; Media Studies program; Communications program; Media within an English, Media and Performing Arts program. It's been fascinating to see how each of these programs borrow from the same pool of ideas to produce and construct a 'program' - an ivory tower, a network of ideas, an ideology (both research and pedagogic) - which is quite unique. And reflects the professional, personal and intellectual interests and needs of the staff involved.
I am utterly unconvinced that all that institutional positioning and course restructuring makes any difference. People like me are still teaching the same things to young people, no matter what the name of the subject/course/degree, the CVs of the convening staff or the publishing profiles of the departmental heads. While the course convenors might intend a new and interesting and cutting edge subject, in practice their financial and employment restrictions necessitate using the same sessional stooges. And it is these stooges who actually do most of the teaching in universities. And course convenors beware: we are constantly negotiating our relationships to what you're teaching, and there's a very, very, very good (as in 100%) chance we're adjusting and tailoring your subject to meet our own intellectual, personal and political goals*.
And it is these stooges who are steadily acquiring mad teaching skills (well, hopefully, but certainly not definitely. Or even possibly), but who ultimately regard sessional teaching as a step to somewhere else, a momentary aberration from a 'professional' career in academia. One which does not involve teaching.

But I have learnt a lot. I've seen some very good teaching in action, and I've seen some very bad. I've done my share of each (though I'd hope for a little more of the former, it's impossible to gauge my own professional development in such an impermanent and constantly-shifting context). I've used some excellent readers (most of which could simply be reproduced as some sort of 'cultural studies in Australia bible', with a few addenda for localised interests or nods to administrative reshuffles and demands for 'more digital content' or 'more practical applications'). I've also managed to keep up with current research - filtered down through the staff I've worked with, and occasionally stimulated by a particularly interesting lecture or 'optional reading'.

3. I've had the chance to work with hundreds and hundreds of really bright, really motivated and interested students. Just when I think I hate teaching and never want to do it again, I have a class where someone says something so interesting it's on my mind for days. Students bring fresh minds to familiar readings, they bring fresh ideas to familiar discourses, and they bring - in many cases - young approaches to increasingly older institutions. Many of the assumptions staff make about viewing habits or media consumption practices or just plain everyday activities are critiqued and challenged by students simply describing what it is they watch on television, where it is they go to eat and how it is they communicate with their friends, families and teachers. I love them.
I'm also struck by just how much many of the overworked staff I deal with love them. They just plain love their stoods. And they take their teaching responsibilities very seriously. Perhaps the hardest thing to see is a staff member bitching about their work load on one hand, and revealing committed, passionate caring for their students and delight in the teaching process on the other. I think that many of these people feel, quite profoundly, that teaching is important, an idea which is particularly unpopular in academia these days.

I would, quite happily, commit myself to a couple of years of doing nothing but teaching undergrads. I'd like to be set up in an office with a computer and a library and a bunch of stationary, and told to teach a bunch of subjects. It'd kick my arse, but I'd really like the opportunity. Even though - as a friend said half in jest the other day - [expressing that desire] 'is career suicide'. I think that this is perhaps the saddest part of sessional teaching - seeing people who love teaching, who love sharing ideas and listening to students develop an interest in - and passionate attachment to - ideas feel guilt about or some sort of reticence to admit this. I'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-Mr-Chips hippy teachers. But I am saying that it seems the worst thing about sessional teaching is that you are faced with learning that teaching is a waste of time, is frustrating, is miserable and just plain bad news. Not terribly encouraging when you're trying to bust on into this industry.

4. My teaching has inspired new ideas and new plans for papers and research projects which other forms of academic engagement (of which I have precious few) do not. I'm simply inspired by the process of reading and re-reading canonical texts, and then having to find ways of letting students find their own ways to fall in love or in fascination with these ideas. It's challenging to find class activities or interesting learning and teaching games which make these ideas a) relevant, and b) just plain fun.
I think that the most important part of teaching media and cultural and communications and gender studies is to help students find a way to make this material relevant to their own everyday lives, and to find ways to just plain enjoy playing with it. I mean, de Certeau is fun. He's dodgy, and his stuff falls, down, but it's fun to find ways to explore and apply his ideas. And it's also really, really fun to see students then test out the use-value of this stuff, and to begin to articulate their reservations about concepts. I think this stuff should have some sort of use-value, even if that use is only as an intellectual game, just for the sake of playing.

... but, anyway, I have to end by saying that I'm not terribly hopeful about my future in academia. There aren't enough jobs. I can't publish a book (I amn't really convinced it's actually all that useful a process anyway). No one gives a crap about dance. Working in universities is generally pretty shit. Perhaps it is better just to stick with sessional teaching, rather than committing myself - so emotionally and so finally - to a full time career in it?

* Some of us are not ready to be postfeminists just yet. Nor are we convinced that newspapers, television, magazines and radio are 'heritage' media.

"i'm not saying that we should all be mad-crazy-mr-chips hippy teachers" was posted by dogpossum on October 29, 2008 2:15 PM in the category teaching

October 26, 2008

oh man

Glen was right. After ep 3, True Blood is really neat.

It's addictive. I think I need to negotiate the politics, but for now, I'm just loving it. I Need. To. Watch. It. All. The. Time.

Other programs I'm watching:

  • Dawson's Creek, season 2 (from the beginning, a consecutive viewing). Increasingly intolerable;
  • Sanctuary (kind of dumb);
  • season 1 of Buffy (if ever you feel a little oppressed by the patriarchy, Buff will help you out. But only seasons 1 and 2. Then it gets too dark);
  • season 4 of The Wire (double awesome).


  • Deadwood from the beginning again.
  • Sarah Connor Chronicles.
  • Some other stuff.

Cinema atm:

  • Robocop 2. So boring I stopped watching 2 minutes in. The Squeeze is enthralled;
  • Persuasion, BBC version. Can't remember it, think it'll be neat;
  • Escape From New York. Sweeeeeeet;
  • new Coen Brothers' film. Disappointing and a bit boring;
  • XMen. Again. Still ace.

  • "oh man" was posted by dogpossum on October 26, 2008 10:31 PM in the category true blood

    October 20, 2008

    sweet eddie condon (and friends) action

    (props to Plog for finding this)

    "sweet eddie condon (and friends) action" was posted by dogpossum on October 20, 2008 2:10 PM in the category music

    in honour of aquaria

    This contemporary aquariums article reminded me of my trip to the Melbourne aquarium (click that image to the left there to see huge jelly blubbage). We went to the Sydney one recently, and I think I prefer the Melbourne aquarium; the Sydney aquarium's information posters and stuff around the actual fish was quite crap. The Museum kicked both their arses for fully awesome awesomeness.

    "in honour of aquaria" was posted by dogpossum on October 20, 2008 10:59 AM in the category clicky

    extremely awesome dj


    canadian company cocoon created a dj table for drink company red bull. made from wood the table consists of slotted cutouts. the space can be used to store vinyl records and also provides ventilation for the modern dj's laptop.

    (from designboom - you can follow links to the designer, coccoon, but they have a skanky flash site, so no direct-linking)

    "extremely awesome dj" was posted by dogpossum on October 20, 2008 10:22 AM in the category djing

    October 19, 2008

    little fats and swingin' hot shot party

    lf.jpg Hot Japanese swing. Yes. You can listen to it here.
    I am always a sucker for a contemporary band doing skankin' old timey jazz. Most of the best bands seem to be punker kids. Because, really, that's what that olden days hawt jass was all about. Sex and drugs and rock and roll.

    "little fats and swingin' hot shot party" was posted by dogpossum on October 19, 2008 8:19 PM in the category music and objects of desire

    October 16, 2008

    oh man

    I suck. Those last two posts are really painful.

    "oh man" was posted by dogpossum on October 16, 2008 6:31 PM in the category

    maybe i am just getting cynical

    I found this video clip on someone else's blog:

    This type of song would have been right up my alley when I was about 16. He's all mournful and longing for his wooz. It's very sing-along-able.
    But it really doesn't do anything for me today. Watching, it I thought (in this order):
    1. 'What's that goob on his... oh, he has a nose ring. Ok. And so does she. Well, I guess piercings are pretty everyday now, aren't they?' Goes to show how long it's been since I watched a mainstream video clip. In the olden days you'd have found a nose ring on any indy boy (or girl), but definitely not in the nostril of this little emo lad. Things've changed. And it's been a long time since I shaved my head each week and wore docs. Now I just let my hair get shaggy and long and wear hiking shoes or sneakers everywhere.

    2. 'He's singing like a girl, and that's probably why I would have liked him when I was a teenager.' All that emotional exposure was not something I would have found in your average northern Brisbane suburban boy in the 80s. It would have been riveting, fascinating and utterly irresistible. I think, in part, because it's the type of hardcore emoting girls my age did. But not boys. Now I look at it and think 'harden, up, mate'. If I knew him, I'd know that this arty lad was a one for pulling the guilt trip, some hardcore passive aggressive manipulation ('I'm emotionally sensitive - you can't say you don't want to have sex/come to the party with me/do what I want - I'll cry or spend hours writing poetry or get into bed and never get out'). These days, this is the type of bloke I have absolutely no patience with. I know that he's the type of bloke who'd spend hours telling you about his emotions or his poetry or his songs or his whatever, and then cleverly manage to turn the conversation back to himself, him, he when I wanted to perhaps talk a little about myself. I am wary of men who like a woman who listens. I am wary of these soft-centred blokes who really just want you (woman, girl) to listen to how they feel. When I was a teenager, it would've been my cup of tea. These days, if I meet a bloke who doesn't once ask me about myself, or who can happily spend hours talking bullshit about himself, I'm totally not interested. Get a blog, for god's sake. I like blokes with emotions (and who know how to use them), but this sort of overly-romantic, dumb-rhyming, soft-focus shit gets my hackles up.

    3. 'He's attractive, attractive in an ordinary-bloke sort of way. Why isn't the girl in the clip attractive in an ordinary-girl sort of way? Why is she this super-skinny glamour-girl? He'd be so much hotter if she was actually attractive in that idiosyncratic ordinary-girl way.' It was quite jarring to see this too-conventionally-attractive girl in the clip. It kind of busted up his 'I'm just interested in what you say' refrain. Obviously he's also missing her skinny arse and her lashings of mascara and her my-eyes-look-this-big-because-I'm-malnourished dull as dishwater mainstream chic. Booooring. He'd ring my bell if the woman he's pining for was actually wearing a proper indy aesthetic, and not just a piercing.

    Watching the clip now, listening to it, it's so difficult to have patience with this sort of music. I think it's the territory of teenagers. Only they can actually feel like that, so completely and bottomlessly and without any sense of irony. I look at that clip now, and it makes me giggle a bit. Inappropriately. I think this type of music is for teenagers. Because most adults realise that those intense, hormonally charged feelings aren't going to go on and on forever. You get up, you go to work, you talk to people; you can't just wallow all day in the way you feel. Unless you actually are a teenager. Or seriously depressed. And only a teenager would think that sort of depression was romantic. I listen to that song (which is designed to be played and played and replayed and replayed and so become eternal and never-ending... interminable) and I think 'There's some crazy obsessive stalking going on there. Get over it, mate.'
    It certainly pales in comparison with some of the music I listen to now. I mean, Billie Holiday is queen of being freakin' depressed and on heroin and getting beat up by your man. But her songs manage to be both utterly miserable and also kind of self-depreciating. She knows she's screwed, but she can manage a wry smile. She has that level of self-awareness. That lad up there... well, really, either he's trying it on to pull some romantic teenager, or he's too caught up in his own pain to realise he's lacking sympathy.

    Maybe I am just getting cynical.

    "maybe i am just getting cynical" was posted by dogpossum on October 16, 2008 6:02 PM in the category music

    i have little to say about this, and so a little post

    I'm still a little surprise that many Australian lindy hoppers think of blues dancing as passive, over-sexed, late-night and low-interest. But then, I think that I was lucky in Melbourne to have access to a vibrant local blues dancing community. A community (or should that be sub-branch of the swing dancing community? I think so. Just as we might include balboans for our swing dancing census, blues dancers also Belong To Us) whose social dancing component was at the time far more vibrant, interesting and live-music focussed than the wider local lindy hopping scene. But even in Melbourne, I was surprised that so many lindy hoppers would dismiss blues dancing in the above terms. Particularly when it was blues dancing (and balboa) that made such significant contributions to the groundedness and general movement away from 'arm leads' in many leads' dancing.

    For my part, blues dancing was - in late 2007 at least - the most interesting and creatively stimulating part of social dancing in Melbourne. Live bands. A variety of DJs. Lots of leads and lots of follows, of all levels, out social dancing regularly. A pumping party vibe to every social dancing night. There were a number of factors contributing to the health of the Melbourne blues scene (not least of which were enthusiastic and ambitious events-organisers working within the unenviable constraints of school-based teaching and discourse), but I'm not particularly interested in discussing them here.

    Really, I don't have terribly much to say, beyond sending you here to look at this very interesting image. I'll also add it as a popup image, just in case the site disappears:view image. This image really captures the way I think about blues dancing. Heck, I had trouble writing that - it feels a bit too much like the first year essays I've been marking, too close to a dull old semiotic analysis. But really, it is. Firstly, it's black and white. Or rather, black on white. Kind of unusual for webdesign, but particularly important for a dance which has its roots in black and white media: news print, pre-colour magazines, phonograph records, vinyl, shellac, photographs, early cinema. The white lines are kind of challenging on the eye, adding vibrancy and 'pop' to the title 'blues SHOUT!', as does the uneven lettering. All of this contributes to the sense of energy and dynamism which I tend to associate with blues dancing. For me, it is not dull or lifeless or passive or low-interest or over-sexed (though some blues dancers - as with lindy hoppers - are!).

    Well, I have nothing more to say about this, except perhaps that I'd really like to go to this event. Pity it's in Chicago, huh?

    "i have little to say about this, and so a little post" was posted by dogpossum on October 16, 2008 5:12 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances

    October 14, 2008

    and finally!

    There're more Showdown clips!

    This one is AMAZING

    Liberation finals @ ULHS 2008

    Because the music is so freakin' fast. Check out those tiny little bodies running about at such high speeds! In the air! On the ground! Go!
    I'm not entirely sure this is lindy hopping music (it's a bit early - tuba, etc, not enough four on the floor action), but it's freakin' great.
    I especially like the angle this clips shot at - it puts us amongst it.

    (btw, you can see the 'Revolution' finals here).

    note to self: write diatribe about high heels, the patriarchy and gross deformities of the foot.

    "and finally!" was posted by dogpossum on October 14, 2008 5:22 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances

    ilhc v ulhs

    Because the ULHS clips are still disappeared (with only some very boring 'official' clips to be found), I present this neat clip instead.

    It's from the ILHC (International lindy hop champs - wtf? I challenge the legitimacy of that claim!) and features the awesome Boilermaker Jazz Band, some rock star dancers, some big schnapps, some jammin'. It's fun. I think I like it because things go wrong, there's some overexcited spastic dancing, some leads all caught up in the moment and forgetting about their partners, some lovely jam etiquette and just some random jazz fan 'I love music!' action.

    "ilhc v ulhs" was posted by dogpossum on October 14, 2008 3:48 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances

    October 12, 2008

    liveblogging showdown... from sydney...

    [EDIT: sadness of sadnesses, the clip I was referencing has been taken down from youtube already. I wish I'd downloaded it :( ]

    The Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown is on right now, as I type. Check out that website for interesting site design, sweet pics, interesting judges' essays, outlines of competition formats.

    This year is interesting, not simply for the dancing (which I shall set aside with the aside that it is really quite GREAT), but for its teknikkal mediation.

    I have faceplant friends whose updates are letting me know that they are at Showdown, getting ready, resting up, watching clips, catching up with friends and about to go dancing (one of the frustrations of faceplant's updates and twittering is that you can never tell people, honestly that you are actually dancing at that moment - you are always about to dance or have just been dancing or are thinking about dancing). And I've just been watching some of the very first bits of footage from the event on Youtube. Here's one:

    (J&J finals, ULHS 2008)

    This is the finals of a jack and jill competition. Jack and Jills are perhaps the most interesting competitions if you're looking for real leading and following. These guys don't usually dance together (though the pool of dancers frequenting this event is really quite small at this 'elite' level), and they're certainly not dancing choreographed sequences - everything you see is improvised. There is, of course, a large shared pool of steps - both 'modern' and 'historic' - which each dancer knows. And each dancer is of course expected to bring their own particular flavour.

    The competition involves a number of heats:
    - dancers enter as individuals
    - dancers are paired up with a partner, randomly (usually a die is thrown)
    - dancers dance with that partner
    - dance partners are 'shuffled' randomly and the new partners dance together
    - dance partners are shuffled again and paired with a final partner, with whom they move through too the finals and will dance with for the rest of the competition.

    The number of shuffles and new partners depends on the specific competition, though a couple of shuffles is usually required - one isn't really enough (you want to see people dance with at least three partners).

    The fun of this competition lies in the partner shuffling. And in seeing just how well dancers adjust to and work with their new partners. Familiar partners offer an immediate - or faster - pathway to creative rapport. But an unfamiliar partner must be adjusted to. Will the lead allow the follow to 'bring it'? Will the follow know when to bring it and when to 'listen'? There are moments when both partners are 'listening', when both are 'shouting' and when the happy conversational midground is met. Jack and Jills can be awkward, they can be magic and they can be just plain old good fun.
    They're my favourite type of competition, and I enter them whenever I can. I find it's much easier to lead than follow in a Jack and Jill - you're setting the tone and choosing the steps. You can leave the follow some space if you feel her wanting to bust out. As a follow, you really have to wait and wait and wait for your partner to hear your contribution, and it's more than likely that he won't. Or that when you finally get some space, you come in shouting and it all dissolves into one of those bad arguments you have at 1am when you're overtired and really should be in bed.

    Any how, back to Showdown and some really nice Jack and Jilling. The one thing I've noticed about Showdown in recent years is how similar the dancers are all becoming. I wonder if it's because they're all dancing and working together now more than ever? But at any rate, the diversity in dance styles has diminished in recent years - even Frida is looking like 'just another follow', when she always was 'FRIDA' (this is not to suggest that she sucks: she is still the Queen, the Boss and my favourite).

    If you check out that clip, you'll see some interesting things going on in the filming and competition structure, both things which mediate your viewing or experience of the competition from a distance. If we were there to watch, we'd be caught up in the adrenaline of the live performance. There is no sitting calmly and objectively by in this type of competition: dancers need your energy, your shouting, your vocal and visual feedback. The band is live, and they're also in on the performance - they're responding to dancers, to the audience, to what they see and hear. And as a member of that audience, we're caught up in that loop. We're also all dancers, so we're 'dancing along' with the people in the competition.

    But when you're watching via youtube, from the other side of the planet from the other side of the day, the experience is a little different. If you're still a dancer, and used to this social competition format, you're still 'living' the competition along with the dancers and audiences, especially if you're watching without fast forwarding or pausing, and if your interwebs connection is speedy. You're reading what you see as a dancer would - you're watching for the highlights, for the points of connection between partners, the missed leads, the dancers' reactions to these errors and moments of miscommunication. Do they laugh? Do they cringe? Do they panic? Do you laugh with them? Do you cringe in sympathy? Do you panic with them?

    And where is the camera in all this? I read an article* on the Warlpiri media collective the other day where the author described the ways in which the camera itself must be given a 'skin' (or at the very least a specific, proscribed viewing position) when filming important stories. For the persons being filmed and involved in the filming process to know how to relate to the filming process, and for the final film's audiences to know how to watch the filming, the camera must be slotted into a specific social position and set of relationships within the community. When we watch a dancer's amateur filmclip of a dance competition, we are similarly identifying with the 'author's' social viewing position. We are 'the audience' - both at home in front of the computer, and squished into a spot on the dance floor watching the competitors. We are also dancers. It's been interesting to see how the technicalities of filming a competition like this affect the way we inhabit these positions as audience. When I say that we are watching as dancers, it is not just that we are watching with the physical, social, emotional and musical memories of our own dancing experiences.

    Let me take one example.
    This type of competition is a relatively recent incarnation of the lindy hop competition format. Let me describe an earlier, alternative format. Over the SLX weekend I participated in and watched some 'serious' lindy competitions. Dancers would dance to one song, all together on the floor in an 'all skate' 'warm up'. Then they would be seated along the back of the 'stage' area, watching as couples took turns dancing for one minute, alone in a 'spot light' to one song. Then there was another all skate, and we were done. As an audience member, the format was not only seriously dull, it was also frustratingly lifeless. The seated competitors provided no visual or emotional interest: they couldn't dance or move along with dancers, filling in the background with extra layers of rhythm and visual interest. They couldn't interact with the audience and competitors - there was no cheering, no visual or physical 'response' to what they saw. As a competitor, I found it stifling to sit so inactively on the sidelines, waiting for my turn to show off. I also found it emotionally confusing - first I was 'on', when I was dancing, then I was 'off' as I waited for my turn. It was, in the sense of spoken discourse analysis, a very 'white', very masculine example of formal turn taking. There was no collaborative meaning making or supportive 'interaction' as you might hear from a group of women gossiping. There was no logical and cumulative emotional development as each heat progressed - we couldn't build energy and emotion from the start to the climax. We were up/down/on/off. Boring and frustrating for both audience and dancers.

    But compare this with the Showdown format in the clip above. All dancers begin on the floor in an 'all skate'. Four phrases - 8 bars - later (at about 1.08) all but one couple move off the floor. This is, I think, a new development - usually the first couple begins at the first phrase while the others watch and wait in an line in order of entry. I like this new version. Immediately, the couples must show that they a) understand phrasing, and b) that they have the visual and spatial sense to know how to move themselves (and their partners) off the floor and out of the way of the first couple. This isn't a trick for new dancers, but it's certainly something any dancer should have if they've been dancing for a little while. It's interesting, musically, because it suggests that the band should be using a 4 phrase introduction: "hello, here's the head/theme, here're the instruments, here are the dancers." It's a lovely way of bringing everyone together, musically, thematically, physically. It's also very much a marker of swinging jazz structures.
    The first couple then dances for four phrases (until 2.06), coinciding with the first solo (a trumpet). Sweeeeet. I'm not sure if there was a confusion in how long each couple had to dance, as that lead looks up at about two phrases and makes as if to clear the way for the next couple. Either he didn't realise he had four phrases, or the next couple failed to make their entrance after the second. Musically, it makes more sense for a couple to have four phrases rather than two. It's more common for a couple to take one phrase (in a traditional 'jam' format) if the music is slow, and two if the music is faster.

    The part that interests me is the way the camera begins to turn at the end of the second phrase 'looking' for the next couple. Is it following the first lead's lead? Or does it also know that the couples were to have only two phrases and an error has been made? The camera's movement encourages our thinking - from the other side of youtube - that there's been an error or miscommunication. Whether there has or not.

    Either way, the fascinating part of all this is the way the format is sufficiently flexible that it can adjust for these errors and miscommunications. It's all still 'fair' because each couple will have a few turns, and their later 'turns' will be more interesting, as they and the audience 'warms up'. It's also fun - as audience and competitor - to see how a couple adjusts to these on the spot changes. They must be sufficiently cool and relaxed to not get all freaky and anal about the changes. They must have the musical skills to hear and respond to these new changes (if I were leading, I'd think 'ok, we're using 4 phrases now, not 2' and adjust my leading and combination of moves to suit), and they must also begin listening for new things in the musicians' playing to suit these new parameters.

    [I have to point out: that first lead, Todd Yannacone, would have to be my pick for most musically amazing lead. He not only embodies the smaller musical embellishments, but also the broader structures of the song. He can hear and dance and lead the phrasing, the notes, the musicians' emphases and embellishments... and he functions as an instrument in himself, bringing another layer of rhythm and chromatic interest to what he hears. As a dancer, it's like synesthesia - we see what we hear and feel. And when it works, it's like taking a hit of ecstasy it's so pleasurable... which of course implies that a dancer's ignoring the musical structures is jarring and uncomfortable - both aesthetically and socially. And it is.]

    At 3.05 that couple leaves and the next enters. But if you watch the competitors lined up in the background, you can see that they're all dancing with the competitors - they're completely invested in what they see. This is in part because they're 'on' - they're about to compete and they've already begun working and listening to the music. It's helpful, when you're competing, to be 'dancing' to the music, invested in the structures and relationships within the band, and so already 'dancing' and 'making' music. You're not starting cold. For everyone - audience, competitor, musician - the mood can be developed, cumulatively, over the course of the song. The band can pass around solos, everyone having a go at bringing their thing to the song (sounds a lot like the dancers - who take turns doing 'solos' in the 'jam', bringing their thing, contributing to the general 'dance' or 'song'). Each lead - each couple - brings their own, unique style and visual embodiment of the music. The couple would not work if the follow didn't also contribute to the lead's contribution - she not only adds her own styling, but maintains the momentum of his moves, carries his rhythm in her body, reflecting it, adding to it, developing and re-working it within his creative structures. It's not that he's the boss, but that they have to work together to make it work - left and right hands on a piano, two musicians within a band, etc etc etc.

    It's interesting at about 4.05 that you see how a jack and jill pairs up two dancers with disimilar personalities. The lead is exuberant, exaggerated, comedic, big. The follow is less extroverted - her following is wonderfully accurate and reflects what her lead follows. But when it comes to that moment when he looks to her and asks her to do as he does - large, exaggerated, silly, comedic arm and leg movements - she hesitates. She no doubt has a moment of 'omg'. She likes to watch him, to see his styling, but she's not quite ready to commit to that level of uninhibited performance. She's obviously really enjoying dancing with him, but this moment, this type of movement... it's not really her thing. But I like it that he 'asks' her - he looks to her, moves and then invites her to join it. It's not an error or a screw up, it's a nice moment of 'would you like to...?' and 'oh man, this is crazy!'

    This is the sort of public negotiation of leading and following that makes jack and jill comps so interesting and so much fun: we get to see new couples negotiate the terms of their relationship in public. It's kind of like getting to watch a new couple dating - will she laugh at his jokes? Will he know when to stop teasing her? Will they laugh at the same things? These are all things that I wrote about at length in my thesis. When we imagine dance as public discourse, and social dance (or improvised dance) as social discourse, we can read dance as a space in which public social identities and relationships are negotiated.

    Throughout this, it's interesting to watch the camera work. The camera shakes and moves more when the dancers are doing larger, more emotionally exuberant movements. If this were a 'proper' film, we'd say that this was to emphasise the emotion of the moment. But this is not choreographed camera work - it is a dancer filming dancers, and we can almost feel their emotional and physical response to what they see - the camera moves with the dancers. The dancer filming is moving with the dancers they're watching.

    I was reading somewhere (goodness knows where**), that one of the satisfactions of watching elite dancers dancing is being able to work through the complex movements with the people we watch, feeling some emotional, problem-solving pleasure in their (superior) ability. I'd argue that it's more than simply the pleasure of seeing a movement competently executed; it's about the pleasure of a social conversation resolved without conflict or embarrassment. There is a special pleasure in watching a lead leading their follow kindly and with social sensitivity - they do not allow their follow to be publicly embarrassed by an inappropriate or socially discomforting step. They allow their follow to 'speak' and do not frustrate them by speaking 'at' them for the duration of the dance. This is something that follows in particular respond to when they watch leaders with good 'social dancing skills' - they will remark that that leader looks 'fun' or 'gives the follow space' or 'nice'. This positive reading of accomplished social interaction (in a public space!) might be transferred to or complimented by an acknowledgement of their physical appearance and appeal. In other words, a lead who is reasonably ok looking will get hotter by the minute if he's leading generously. More generally, I've heard women dancers remark many times that they didn't like a lead until they danced with him. I myself have felt previous animosities or resentments mediated by a 'nice' dance with an attentive lead. It's not too surprising, really - it is all social interaction, really. And we are social animals.

    I have to point out a lovely moment in the phrase beginning about 4.34. The leader moves into a wide, sliding slide. The follow follows. Often, at these moments, there's not a lot a follow can do beyond watching and letting the lead have his moment to 'shine'. There is some interesting gender performance at work here: women as crutch to male performance in public space? Lindy hop is, thankfully, a dance that requires both male and female 'performance' - the swing out is fundamentally dependent on both partners taking advantage of the time in open to 'bring it' - swivels, jazz steps, whatever. So when we see this lead (and I think it's one of the Italian or French leads - his movements scream European masculine swank) pull his stunt, it could have been a moment all about him: she could simply have stood and waited, doing something small to showcase his showing off. Or she could have done the (socially unthinkable) less nice ignoring or defusing of his movements by bringing her own fancy shit. But as it plays out, there's some nice cooperative play happening here.
    He pulls his stunt. She lets him complete it, then echoes his posture with a wide legged on-her-heels pose (both of which, incidentally, nicely echo the sustained note of the violin), which she concludes with some funny foot-waggling. She's looking down at her feet (and his, initially), and this draws our attention down with her gaze, as does her lifting her skirt (international lindy hop symbol for 'look at me!'). As she wiggles her feet, he's giving her time to stand there (offering some support with his stable upper body), complementing with some stomp offs. His moving lower body reminds us that the music is moving on, our gaze moves up, following his arms, and we see his lovely 'twittery' hands echoing her twittery waggling feet and the twittery waggling violin (in a call and response). And these two 8s (just 16 bars!) conclude with some nice 'together' movements, her lifted head and moving gaze freeing us from her feet, his calm waiting bringing us back to his (lovely, stable) body, and then there's a little flourish from them both, and it's done.

    The crowd dig it. It feels really nice. This is the magical part of lindy hop - the dancers make shit up. The musicians make shit up. People listen to each other, talk to each other. The audience signals its approval and participation. And then it's done and we move on. That's the stuff that brings me back to lindy hop. And this isn't even the most amazing or fabulous stunt. It's just a little something that makes jack and jills fun - they don't dance together, it's not rehearsed, it's just lovely cooperative musical creative play. And we're all there with them.

    Unfortunately this clip ends before the end of the competition. But, as in the Revolution finals, there will have been an all-skate to finish it off. One last chorus where everyone - dancers, musicians, everyone - comes together to finish off the song. The energy usually peaks just about there - the music is pumping, the dancers are all dancing - our eyes and minds and bodies are super-stimulated by all that sound and movement. It feels really good. It looks kinda messy and jumbled if you don't read dance, but it sounds sweet.

    I'm looking forward to watching the rest of the clips from the weekend. I'm very sorry we can't have live streaming Showdown to watch here in Sydney, but delayed youtubing will have to do (and goddess bless the folk who post their stuff on youtube).
    This post is, I guess, an example of the type of work I did in my thesis, and the type of things that pound through my brain when I watch footage of dancers (though I'm very rarely thinking at all when I'm dancing in these things - when I was leading in the J&J final at SLX all I could possibly think was 'don't pass out now and let your follow down' as we passed over 230bpm and my systems started to shut down. Sometimes all that you have room for in your body is sensation.

    *That article was one of these, probably the second one (I can't be arsed checking):
    Michaels, E. (1987) “How Walpiri People Make Television”, For a Cultural Future, Artspace: Melbourne, pp 18-28.

    Langton, M. (1993) “Cultural Specificity in Aesthetics and Production”, from Well I heard it on the Radio and I saw it on the Television, Australian Film Commission: Sydney, pp59-73.

    **but probably here (thanks to Dust For Eyes for original linkage)

    "liveblogging showdown... from sydney..." was posted by dogpossum on October 12, 2008 12:06 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances

    October 10, 2008

    hairy feminist signing in

    I've had hairy legs and armpits for so long I tend to forget that there's anything unusual happening down/under there. But every now and then someone else'll notice, and I'll get a suprise. Look at that! Who'd have thought!

    I'm always impressed when I see other Ladies with hairy armpits - that's awesome. And I see them so rarely. It seems the most radical people on campus these days are academics - if I see someone with hairy armpits (international symbol of radical inattention to grooming) I think "YEAH!"

    But every now and then someone else'll notice and I'll remember. Usually, their gaze gets caught. And they keep having to look. And they look away. And they have to look back. It's kind of odd - I mean, it's so ordinary to me, I simply don't notice it. But for most people, a Lady with hairy pits or legs is so unusual it gets a stare. I mean, people can't even really See homeless people on the street, or a guy asking for a dollar. But they can't look away from a bit of delicate insulation.

    I've always been a bit disappointed I don't have really hairy legs, but since giving up shaving as a bad job in 1990 (grade 10, thanks) and forgetting to shave my armpits at about the same time, what little hair I do have has gotten a lot less fierce. It's kind of soft and delicate. It lacks angry feminstah passion.

    I'm not much into 'beauty products' either. Sorbelene, shampoo and conditioner, herbal toothpaste, blistex for my chapped lips and some no-chemical soap. That's all I need. Oh, and a bit of hair colour for when I've forgotten to get a haircut. Because I figure it's not worth being scruffy if you don't make the most of it. It takes me 15 minutes to get ready to leave the house.

    Something that's brought home to me whenever I spend any amount of time with another woman who isn't as into minimal grooming (and, well, that seems to be most women), is just how much time all that grooming takes up. I really can't believe people waste good reading time shaving their legs. Or good bullshit-story-telling time in front of the mirror. I rarely look in the mirror (puberty's over - the good stuff has happened and I doubt anything much is going to change for the next twenty years). I'm not about to tell people to get over that grooming stuff - that's their business. But it really does stun me.

    The bit that really bothers me is the fact that most men don't bother with this stuff either. Sure, there're stories about metrosexuals (and I do have a few in my acquaintance), but for the most part, all this attention to physical appearance is something that clutters up women's time. Would it be wrong for me to point out that all that grooming really is part of a grand plan to keep you from Looking Up and noticing that there's more important shit going down? I mean, how could we possibly get on with fighting The Man (or kicking arse with righteous fury) if we had to stop and spend two hours every day fixing our hair? I mean, how much fun are we if we're always worrying about what we eat or how our trousers fit us? If my arse is inside my pants, I figure it's a win. If I'm clean, then we're all laughing.

    So what I'm saying is: grooming. It's ok - it's not bad in itself. But when it's only the ladies who 'have' to do it, then there is something wrong. That's not cool.

    I have plenty of more important things to think about. Who's going to relearn all those historic jazz dance routines? Who's going to sew all those amazing new clothes? Who's going to teach those darling little chundergrads about essay structure? And the internet's not going to fill itself full of shit, is it?

    I'm also a little concerned by the emphasis on pain and self-punishment in grooming. Don't eat that, even if you want it: deny! Pluck that hair out - handle the pain! Put that hot wax on yourself, then pull it off (but don't you dare get turned on)! Stick that chemical-tested-on-bunnies right up in your delicate eye ball. Wash your vag out with that stuff. Wear that incredibly constraining waistband - you won't want to do any dancing or stunts or have any fun. And no one will want to see your fabulous physical comedy.

    I mean, really, am I alone here? Is it just me that thinks all this shit is just plain nuts?

    [btw this rant is in part inspired by a fabulous collection of Germaine Greer's letters to newspaper editors and small publications. I want it.]

    "hairy feminist signing in" was posted by dogpossum on October 10, 2008 6:52 PM in the category domesticity

    the 9am start was especially difficult today

    ...but one of my students was wearing this: wwjd.jpg so it was a little easier. It made me giggle a whole lot.

    I am really tired. I haven't had a full, proper night's sleep in a very, very long time. It's funny how you get used to broken sleep. I don't like it, I'm not a nice person, but I'm used to it.
    Did I mention that I didn't like it?
    Thank god the tutes are only an hour. I honestly can't figure out how I'm managing to teach when I'm this tired.

    I'm going to blog the SLX soon. I promise. But, really, there's not much to say beyond 'I danced a lot' and 'I did some DJing' and 'I stayed up all night a lot'. This year I didn't do any stunts, but I did go in a dance competition. Ten years lindy hopping, first comp.
    Basically, competition nights are terribly, tediously boring, even when you're in them. Social dancing is better.
    But getting to the finals of a Jack and Jill as a lead where I was expected to lead >240bpm was a bit much.

    "the 9am start was especially difficult today" was posted by dogpossum on October 10, 2008 5:50 PM in the category teaching

    October 7, 2008

    i wish i could shimmy like my sister kate

    shake it like jelly, on a plate.

    Eva Taylor etc

    The SLX was on this past weekend. I am too trashed to post much. There are some gorgeous pics of The Squeeze about, though.

    "i wish i could shimmy like my sister kate" was posted by dogpossum on October 7, 2008 11:39 PM in the category lindy hop and other dances and music