Dance is like a block of chocolate

I have some things I want to say about the intersection of dance and audio-visual media, but I don’t have time to make a whole, proper argument. Fuck, I took 100 000 words to talk about these issues in my phd dissertation, so I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to write about this succinctly.

But let me note the ideas that happened to me today. Firstly, someone else made a very interesting observation.

Jerry linked up an interesting video on Facebook.

MOTION #04 – Ledru Rollin by motionparis

(MOTION #04 – Ledru Rollin)

And he wrote:

Via BrotherSwing. This is a pretty slick video featuring Melanie Ohl. However this does highlight an interesting conundrum with these kinds of videos in that the editing is so quick that it’s hard to get a sense of how well the dancer is actually moving. I’ve seen other videos of Melanie, and she is pretty good, but the camera doesn’t stay on her for more than a few beats at a time. On one hand it does keep the casual viewer engaged, but it makes it difficult for someone trying to enjoy just the dance itself.

I’m starting to pay attention to more of this stuff as I’m making my own foray into the netherworld videography with my new camera. Plus a lot of Lindy Hoppers are now getting the opportunity to be filmed all fancy like, I’m actually working on a short video which I may post very soon.

Also, this seems to be a part of a series of videos focusing on different dancers doing different dances, so if you enjoy this, check out the user’s main page for more.

I’ve been paying (some) attention to the way dancers’ve been getting into vlogging lately (eg Mike Pedroza is using youtube and Jerry is making interviews and other fun things (again via youtube, but with his blog and FB page as the key delivery tools)) and I’m always interested in dance-musician video projects.

This is partly because I’m a dance nerd, but much more because I spent a really long time learning and reading and thinking and writing and teaching about media and audiences at uni. I’m really, really, really interested in audiences and modes of participant-consumption (no, I am not ok with the term ‘produceage’). That’s really how my phd began: how do dancers use digital media in everyday dance practice? I wrote about AV media, DJing, email lists and discussion boards, and I can’t seem to stop thinking about this stuff. I guess I just can’t get away from the idea that dancers are all about the body – the face to face interaction – and yet swing dancers are very into digital media. There are all sorts of interesting class, culture and ethnicity issues at work here.

In my own work I carefully avoided talk about Cartesian splits, because I don’t think it’s a terribly useful model. Dancers don’t divide their brains and their bodies, and to insist that dancing is always and forever a thing of the senses and the body, is to devalue the work of choreography and the social labour of production and consumption surrounding the dance floor… or those three minutes on the dance floor. Just as I feel that it does musicians a disservice to dismiss the best jazz as ‘creative magic’, I think it is a mistake to talk about dance only as creative magic happening in the body.

I think that the dancers who achieve the greatest things do spend a lot of time thinking about dance, and how dance works, but they spend even more time on the dance floor, moving, and finally (and always?) they are thinking with their bodies. So I don’t like that idea of a mind/body dichotomy. And we do need to consider the idea that thinking about dance can happen via digital media as well.

I know I’m not the only one who can’t watch dance videos before bed because they keep me awake. I’d always joked about ‘Pavlov’s lindy hopper‘, but then I came across an article by Beatriz Calvo-Merino, Julie Gre`zes, Daniel E. Glaser, Richard E. Passingham, and Patrick Haggard called ‘Seeing or Doing? Influence of Visual and Motor Familiarity in Action Observation’. Basically, if you wire up a dancer’s brain and then observe them watching a particular dance choreography, the same bits of their brain fire as they would when that dancer was themselves dancing that choreography. CRAZY. So – and I extrapolate wildly and without substantiation here – when I’m watching solo charleston videos before bed, my brain starts firing, and it’s as though I’m dancing that charleston. And then we all know how long it takes to calm down after a bit of crazy charleston. I’m also beginning to suspect that a DJ (who is also a dancer) experiences the same brain-work while they’re DJing and watching the floor. So a DJ who watches the floor should – boy, this is getting precarious – should be a better DJ for this doppelgängering effect. Yes, I know doppelgänger probably isn’t the right word or term to describe this. Mirroring – the term Calvo-Merino et al use – is far more useful.

So, yes, let’s talk about this in terms of ‘thinking with the body’. That idea is useful when we think about choreography – and probably even teaching dance – because it gives the observer a way to feel what is going on in the body of the dancer who is being observed.

Yes, yes, but what has this to do with Jerry’s original post?

This is what I wrote in response to Jerry’s facebook post above:

Oh Jerry, I think I love you. This is so totally up my (media studies) alley!

There’s quite a bit of literature in cinema studies about filming dance. I guess the tension lies in filming dance-as-spectacle in itself (where you basically just set up the camera to film dancers’ whole bodies from a fixed position) _or_ filming dance-as-narrative, where you cut, pan, edit, etc to tell a more complex story about dance and through dance.

I saw a very interesting conference paper by Tommy DeFrantz a few years ago, where he talked about Hype Williams and a “black visual intonation” in music video (Believe the Hype: Hype Williams and Afrofuturist Filmmaking’, ‘Refractory’, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Published Aug 27th 2003). This was basically looking at how we might make music video (featuring black music and dance) in a way that reflects the rhythms and intonations of black music and dance itself. In the simplest terms, that might mean cutting and editing film in a particular rhythm. This immediately makes me wonder what a film cut in a ‘step step triple-step’ rhythm might look like.

Another fascinating example of this sort of thing is the Two Cousins video:

(Slow Club – Two Cousins)

On one level the choreography has been put together as a response to the song. The first ‘scene’ gives us Ryan dancing ‘in time’ to the song ‘Two Cousins’. The film then cuts immediately to a slow-mo pulled-back shot of Ryan dancing, with a busier, more exciting part of the song overlaid. There’s an interesting tension between the more exciting music, the exciting dance steps and the effect of slow motion itself.

I think two of the reasons so many people were irritated by the Slow Club video was that it cut and edited the choreography ‘out of sync’, and it also messed with the speed of the choreography – slowing things down and speeding them up. So our dancer’s eye was continually frustrated by an inability to follow the patterns of the choreography ‘in real time’. Lindy hoppers are pattern matchers, and it’s very frustrating to not get to see the entire pattern of the choreography laid out in real time, so we can comprehend the ‘story’ of the choreography itself – the repeating patterns and rhythms. Refusing to let us see the pattern builds tension (and frustration); we never get the release of closure or pattern-repeating.

In contrast, lindy hoppers tend to really love films like the original Al and Leon videos:

(Charleston — Original Al & Leon Style!!)

In these videos there are no cuts, just a few very slow pans. With no cuts, we don’t get that feeling of anxiety about ‘missing’ something that’s been ‘cut out’ of the film: we see the whole thing, in real time. We get to see the patterns and rhythms.

I’m totally fascinated by all this. I’ve written an article about how dancers’ use of AV media changed the way the original films worked as texts. We cut out the ‘dancing bits’ and watch them in isolation from the broader film narrative (which films like Hellzapoppin actually were designed for – censors cutting out the bits that broke race laws). But then we also do things like watch and rewatch, and then watch and rewatch _parts_ of that original scene, out of order. Dancers: we’re all about imposing our own narrative flow. Just like all audiences, really.

Now, to tie all this together. I think, when I wrote about this frustration that dancers feel watching the Two Cousins video, I was referring to a sort of tension (yes, I do overuse that word, but it’s a good one to describe this feeling) that you might feel if you watched this video as a dancer. The Pavlov’s lindy hopper effect kicks in, but then it’s not taken to completion; we don’t get that good old adrenaline contact high from watching this video. Mo frustration!

But this is of course all just speculation on my part. And even I’m highly skeptical. It seems far more likely that the negative comments about the Two Cousins video stemmed mostly from an intellectual and creative frustration with the cutting and ‘obscuring’ of these two gifted dancers. Finally – a high quality video of two of the most difficult-to-catch-on-film, most talented male dancers of our era – and we can’t even SEE THEM! And I’m sure we don’t even need to go into the aesthetic and creative frustrations we feel watching the Two Cousins clip.

Here is where I might insert a bit of talk about the perils of narrative cinema, Laura Mulvey, the male gaze and avant garde cinema. I could go on about how we should be deeply suspicious of submerging ourselves into narrative cinema, and how it is the opiate for our active, interrogative minds. But I can’t support that argument, because I am – unashamedly – a fan of the good story well told. And as someone getting interested in choreography, I’m extra interested in how story structure can work with music and dance to convince audiences they like what they see. I could quite happily go on and on about repetitive structures and just how useful they are for telling stories in dance, but that is way too far OFF THE TRACK even for me. So it’s back to dancers bitching.

So, really, there were lots of reasons for dancers to find the Two Cousins video frustrating. As audiences with shared values (which I guess is how non-corporeal audiences are determined – individuals become audience through shared viewing and shared viewing practices and values), it’s not surprising so many dancers were narked.

But then, it’s also possible to write about the Two Cousins video with some degree of joy as a dancer. I wrote about some of my good feelings about the video in my Two Cousins post.

But even I can’t maintain that blissed out lindy love feeling. I tried to discuss some of the issues of race and discursive and mediated power at work in this and other video performances in ‘Historical Recreation’: Fat Suits, Blackface and Dance. And I went over the details in Another look at appropriation in dance.

That last post about cultural appropriation draws on Tommy Defrantz‘ work, implicitly if not explicitly. Tommy’s work has had a profound effect on my thinking about gender, class, race, dance and power. He is one of the few academic scholars whose work on black dance history can be trusted absolutely. And he’s a dancer himself.

This whole post is leading me to the point where I link you up with this lovely video, Thomas F. DeFrantz: Buck, Wing and Jig:

Which you should then follow up with Thomas F. DeFrantz: Dance and African American Culture:

I especially like the part where he says:

Social dances are hugely important to help us understand how people live their lives. Because in the social dances we see the transformation of physical gesture that people do every day into creative practice, but we also see the fantasy life of social gesture that people don’t get to do in their everyday. …we might see social dances that let people… release all that energy in really unexpected ways.

So Defrantz at once describes social dance as a place where everyday movement is transformed into dance (this is something that gets talked about a lot in other discussions of vernacular dance – especially in LeeEllen Friedland’s work), but also as a place where fantasy lives can be lived out. So we put our ordinary everday into our social dance, but we can also make social dance a place where we live out our fantasies.

This makes lots of sense when you think about gender and dance, and I’ve written before about how social dance might give young women in particular a place to play with gender: femininity, sexuality, desire, and public displays and enactions thereof. But I have always really liked Paris is Burning as an example of shared, public, social, collaborative, creative – fantasy – play in dance. In that film, a ballroom becomes the place where any fantasy about sex, gender, power, beauty, desire, grace, creativity and artistry can be played out.

In an extension of that final point, then, when dancers get to see films like the ‘My Baby Can’t Dance’ video (which I describe in New Chic in Jass), you can see how the camera’s longer, lingering ‘gaze’ upon those dancing bodies (those talented, well-lit, well-dressed, well-known dancing bodies) provides a sort of visual and physical pleasure. I’m not talking sex, here. I’m talking about that Pavlov’s lindy hopper effect. We get the pleasure of seeing someone talented doing a choreography we really like, and we also get the physical/mental pleasure of our observing brain firing and delivering up a good dose of adrenaline.

Now, I’m treading dangerously (frighteningly) close to phenomenology here, and I have to say: do NOT want. I also think that the arguments or ideas I’ve set out here are HIGHLY spurious. You should be very, VERY skeptical of the things I am saying.

But at the same time, aren’t these very tempting, very delicious ideas? Isn’t the thought of getting a ‘contact high’ from watching a dance video a little like an unwrapped block of best Swiss chocolate? Don’t you just want to get all up in its grill?


hot male bodies

I talk an awful lot about women’s bodies, and women and the erotic gaze. I am, of course, working with the assumption that most dance performances are geared towards a male gaze, which Laura Mulvey introduces in her 1975 article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, and which caused such a stir Screen then devoted an entire issue to the matter. But I wonder if that’s what’s actually going on in dance performances? Are we really that dull? In this post I’m going to look at some hot male bodies, and see how we might go about fucking up shit in the modern swing dance world. High heel shoes: for all!

This idea of the male gaze was originally constructed as a response to mainstream narrative cinema, and argues that mainstream narrative films are constructed (from story to shot framing and mise en scene) for an imaginary, idealised male viewer. In this context, men and male protagonists operate as the active, subjective heroes (the people the viewer wants to be) and the women are reduced to bodies to be objectified, acted upon by others (the object the viewer wants to possess or act upon).

You can see how this approach would stimulate lots of discussion. It’s an inherently heterocentric reading: what about queer women watching these female, sexualised bodies on screen? What about queer men watching and wanting to possess and be the male subject? And is it really useful to use this fairly fucked up psychoanalytic approach to cinema which boils everything down to sex? Whether you dig Mulvey’s approach or not, she certainly started people talking – in loud and quite excited ways – about the way cinema constructs stories and images of bodies and people, and she invited us to critique assumptions about gender and power in cinema studies. Which can only be a good thing.

Now I don’t have much patience with psychoanalysis as a tool for analysing film and performance. I don’t think it works, mostly because it boils everything down to sex, and I think that this approach tells us a lot more about 19th century middle class Austrian men than about cinema. But I do think there are some interesting starting points, here. And I want to apply them to dance. Because that is what I do. I’m also interested in the way vernacular dances – on-stage and off – allow the audiences and performers to interact, in a way that cinema does not. In a dance performance, the sexualised body (be it male or female) is capable of physically, verbally and discursively interacting with the audience whose gaze they’ve invited. I think this adds a really interesting and exciting element to the fairly dull model of visual pleasure.

…I have to mention, much of this discussion draws – in a fairly long distance way – on Judith Butler’s talk about gender performance in Gender Trouble. If I had room, I’d go into that, and then into transgender performance, but I don’t think any of us could be bothered with that now. Another time perhaps.

It’s tempting to leap into a discussion about burlesque here. But I’ve done that already (in this post ‘My concerns about burlesque’), and I’m kind of over it. I want to talk about something new. I want to remind people that it’s not only women who are sexualised and men who are sexualising. Just as Mulvey was a starting point for discussions of cinema, I want to move on from talking about sexualising women’s bodies in dance (in the context of contemporary swing dance culture) and talk about sexualising men’s bodies.

I’d like to pause here, and note that I once delivered a conference paper on the sexualised male body in blues dance performance. I was squished, once again, into a panel that featured no other dance talk. In fact, I was after a woman talking about child rape and sexualised children and before a woman talking about literature by women who’ve survived rape. The crowd was all women, with one or two scared young men, and these were hardcore queer studies women, who were absolutely disinterested in men. Sexually, socially or academically.
At one point during my paper, as I began a section discussing the appeal of a young, well-muscled man performing a highly sexualised solo blues routine, I thought “aw fuck.” Needless to say, my lines about the pleasures of gazing upon Falty’s fine young frame and his own pleasure in his body and performance did not go down well.

But, then, this is the point of it all. We are not all watching cinema in the same way. Each text yields – encourages! – a range of viewing positions and ways of looking.

But let’s pause and consider the clip with which I tried to excite those angry lesbian separatists:


The nice thing about this clip… well, hells, there are plenty of nice things about this clip. But the one I most prefer is the way solo dance is more accommodating of a queer gaze than partner dance. In fact, solo dance gives us a chance to side step heteronormativity. Here is a young, healthy man dancing for his own pleasure, and engaging with a range of discourses about gender and sex and sexualised bodies and audiences and performances. He is not anchored to a particular partner (and associated sexual preference). He is autonomous, sexually complete in himself. Which is pretty interesting, as women-as-sexual-object are pretty integral accessories to the heteronormative, hegemonic Man that patriarchy digs.

Despite Mike’s independent display, this is also definitely a performance for an audience – the audience in the room, watching, the audience behind the camera, the other dancers in the performance itself, who are following and imitating his movements. The last is especially interesting: here is a young, white man modelling sexualised dance movements for a range of women and men.

Fascinating, much?

Most importantly, though, Mike’s performance climbs and climbs and climbs, the tension increasing, the sexual show exaggerated and exaggerated until it suddenly tips over. His taking off his shirt is met with screams of delight and excitement, embarrassment, laughter, clapping – all the lovely responses this sort of display requires. It’s not until we see his grin that we are let in on the joke. He knows that this is exaggerated play, and we are allowed to see that he both enjoys the attention (as he should – this is the point of it all, right? Pleasure in being the object/subject as well as pleasure for the observer?) and has performed for us. He doesn’t quite slip out out of character, but it’s very clear that this has all been framed as performance. It’s not, for example, a real performance of sexual invitation. … is it?

[Note: understanding the difference between real sexual invitation and, well, just being there in your body, is something a lot of men have trouble with. They assume that all women are constantly available. If they are outside their homes (or inside them), wearing revealing clothing (or not)… hellz, just breathing. I feel the urge to explore the currently-raging slutwalk debate, but I don’t have the energy. But I would like to link to this article to suggest my concerns about the topic.

But all this makes it clear that we cannot compare male and female sexualised performance in a cultural vacuum. We need to remember context. And for me, that is patriarchy.]

Well, the point of my using this clip here is to say, well, fuck. That conference paper failed. Can you see how it went down awfully in that session? Right. Framing is everything for this sort of show.

So let me show you three other clips. They’re all blues dancing performances. Two are partner blues, one is solo blues. But to frame that one as ‘solo’ blues is a little misleading. The most successful of these types of solo blues ‘battles’ or competitions rely, utterly, on engagement between competitors, and between competitors and audience. Visual play, but also aural and oral engagement. Between dancers and audience, but also between musicians and dancers. There is no solo in solo blues competitions. Not if you’re doing it right. This is not a self-contained performance of sexual immanence. It’s a battle, a demonstration, a performance of sexualised movement which requires interaction. Demands it. This is the call; you bring the response.

I’ll begin with that other solo performance, then. This is the solo blues final from the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown in New Orleans, 2009. I’m most interested in the first minute of the competition. You might be interested in the rest, to compare the male and female performers/performances, but I just want to talk about the men, here. Though I have to note: it is rare to find men in solo blues comps. And their style is very, very different to the women’s. And don’t get me started on the whole not wearing shoes thing.


That particular dancer is Dax Hock. He’s been a professional dancer and performer for years, and, obviously, possesses the mad skills. I like the way he engages with the other (women) performers, and the way he displays his body (and mad skills) to the audience. This is at once a highly sexualised male body, but also a very professional demonstration of performance and dance skills. He won that competition.

As you watch, listen as well. Listen to the audience’s response. To the band and consider the way Dax engages with both. This, to my mind, is where the real skill lies.

There are so many things to talk about in this performance. The references to Snake Hips Tucker, a frightening, mesmerising performer. The moments where Dax spreads his legs ridiculously wide, from the hip, suggesting invitation and echoing a woman’s spread legs as invitation for penetration. In a man, this is transgressive: he invites the gaze, the penetration. But it is also aggressively hegemonic masculinity: admire the phallus (down here!). This is sex talk. With the body. He makes eye contact with the audience, with a suggestive/aggressive invitation to admire him (a cocked head, a nod, the eye contact). He repeats this when he turns to address the other competitors, but his more blatant hip thrust (and display) is less a marker of sexual invitation as an invitation to compare sexual/dancing ability in competition. It’s derision dancing at its finest (I’ve written about derision in dance in regards to race and violence in blues music here, and there are links to references there).

The comparison of male and female sex/groin/performance is interesting as well. A man asking a woman to compete with him for the audience’s attention… is he asking the women to compete with him for the male gaze? For a male/female gaze? Really, I think this is where the term ‘queer’ really comes in useful: he’s inviting women to participate as equals (well, as not-quite-equals) in a performance/display/competition to be both sexual object and subject for a male/female/straight/gay/bi queer gaze. He’s fucking up gender norms here.

But it is the music that makes it all wonderful. The song is shouting ‘sex!’, but it’s also shouting ‘humour!’ and ‘laugh!’ and ‘shout!’ and parody and engagement… so many things, so many different points from which to engage with it, that it defies that heteronormative, male gaze narrative. Which is how blues and jazz roll, really. Slippage. It has it. And Dax, wonderfully, extends that aural invitation with his body.

Do note, here, that we are looking at two young, fit, healthy white male bodies. Not too transgressive, huh? But perhaps it is…?

Let’s move on. Here’s something different. Another competition from that same ULHS 2009. This time it’s partner blues. So we see heterosexuality on display. Or do we? As with most of these sorts of dance competitions, I always wonder if the men are really engaging with the other male performers and with the men in the audience (who are also ‘dancers’) more than with the women they dance with.


So let’s look at the point where Peter dances with Ramona. They’re the second couple, entering at about 0.24 (and yes, Todd’s exit, facing them, his back to his own partner, legs spread, does invite some discussion of phallic competition, yes?). The point I like most is at 0.29, where he breaks them into open position – they’re not touching – and he proceeds to perform for her, and ultimately for us within the frame of their heterosexual pairing. Yes, this is for her (and she responds), but ultimately, we all know that this is for us, the people watching and judging. How are we to assess his performance? In part through Ramona’s response to him. She likes it? He must be hot/good. But we’re also invited to see how his sexualised display (more hips, more pelvis) invites her creative response.

With all this to-ing and fro-ing between Peter and other male competitors and the audience, I’m seeing a whole lot of queer, right here. Particularly when you think about the dance partnership as a professional, working creative partnership. It is always implied, but a professional dancing relationship like Ramona and Peter’s, is not necessarily sexualised. So while Peter and Ramona present as a nice, straight couple, they don’t work that way on every level. So they become available for a little queer co-opting.

The best part of reading on the slant like this, is that I’m pretty sure the men involved wouldn’t be comfortable with my reading them this way. Straight man panics! omg! they might think I’m gay! I’d better butch up! And NSFW!! there’s nothing queerer than the hypermasculine, right? SFW Right? And I have a feeling they’d be equally uncomfortable with the thought of straight and queer women and straight and queer men (let alone transfolk) finding this queering hot.

Here, a short aside. There’s nothing new about straight women imagining straight male pairings as gay. Queering them. Camille Bacon Smith writes about it in her book Enterprising Women, in relation to Spock/Kurk slash. Personally, I enjoy the thought of Sam and Dean Winchester as secret boyfriends. And I’m not alone. But for me, the real pleasure lies not so much in what they actually do together in this imaginary sexual(ised) relationship, but in the thought of their queering – their fucking up – the heternormative world. I like imagining that Dean and Sam have whole lives beyond the television episodes we see. And this enriches what I do see on screen.

I mean, to make alternative readings of women and women’s sexuality work, we have to have alternative masculinities as well. It’s the subversion, the transgression, the rule breaking and naughtiness that I find so appealing. I especially like the way we can read against the grain this way and no one can stop us.

But let me give you one final clip. This one is another partnered blues performance. But it’s not in a competition. So there’s display, but not the same sense of competitiveness.


This one is interesting for the fact that this is a white woman dancing with a black man. There are all sorts of discussions about the young African American man as hypersexualised ‘buck’ to be explored here (check out Donald Bogle’s work on stereotypes of black American identity for a starting place). But I don’t have the references to hand. But I do think it’s cool to see the way this performance subverts that mythology. Here is a young black man with seriously mad dance skills. He has brilliant control. We can see culturally specific as well as gendered movements and bodily awareness at work here. But they are working together as partners. The difference in style is what makes this work. The humour – the parts where we laugh or smile at the jokes – defuse the sexual tension, but at the same time heighten it. It’s the adrenaline and chemical high of laughing that makes us feel good, and we’re more likely to read sexualised subtext as sexualised if we’re feeling good. Or so the theory goes.

This is my favourite partnered blues dance performance. I like the humour, it reflects the things I like about a lot of blues music. I love the use of solo and traditional jazz steps. I adore the use of tango rhythms and styling, as tango was massively popular at the same time as blues music in the 1920s. This is recorded music, not a live band, but it’s a modern performance – Winton Marsalis – covering Jelly Roll Morton’s song ‘New Orleans Bump’. Marsalis himself suggests an engagement with race and ethnicity (though he never seems to gain any sense of reflexivity about gender and sexuality!). And Jelly Roll Morton? Well. He’s all about braggadocio and sexualised masculine performance.

There’s lots more to say about all these. But I think I want to end here, pointing out that my favourite parts of all these are:

  • The male bodies (rather than female) presented for an eroticised gaze.
    Men are presented (and presenting themselves) as sexual objects as well as subjects. I think that this transgression is a useful model not only for other male dancers, but for women dancers as well. As I said on FB, these guys make it clear that the sisters need to put their shoes on and get their action in gear.
  • The invitation to play and to laugh is central to the sexualised display.
    Laughter is about rule breaking. It interrupts power and control. It is power and control. For many women, their greatest fear is being laughed at or ridiculed because they aren’t sexy/beautiful/young/skinny/white/whatever enough. I think that we can gain some sense of self power to engage with the humour in an assertive way. Combining humour and dance is very difficult. It requires a great deal of skill and confidence. Why not model our dancing on the example set by men, and then twist it, queer it, to undo the traditional gender and power dynamics?
  • It’s all about breaking rules.
    I really, really like performances which break rules. I don’t like to see people hurt or humiliated. I do like to see assumptions about what is ‘proper’ tipped upside down. I do like to be surprised. Patriarchy is boring. Heteronormativity is dull. I want to be entertained. And these are performances. If I’m going to stop dancing and sit down for 3 minutes (or longer), you need to make it worth my while.
  • It moves us away from the boring, stupid idea of sexualised performance embodied in boring second rate burlesque. Yes, ladies, there are other ways of being powerful, sexually, than just presenting your body like a big present for male audiences.

Do, please, go on and seek out other images of men dancing that subvert the hetero stuff. There’s plenty about, from both present day dancers and historic dances. Why not start with these:

[EDIT: I would really like to engage with the race stuff in the final clip, but I don’t feel I’m properly up to date on the literature, so I’d just be bullshitting my way through. But race is absolutely central to this stuff. Contemporary American swing dance culture (accommodating all the related dances) is dominated by white, middle class young people. Dancing dances that developed in black working class and working poor American communities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This has to be addressed, if we are talking power.]


Bacon Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth, Pennsylvania Press: USA, 1992.

Bogle, Donald, Uncle Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks: An Interpretative History of Blacks in Films, Viking Press: USA, 1973.
(this topic is introduced in the chapter ‘Origins of Black Body Politics’ of Jackson’s book)

Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Routledge: USA, 1990.

Jackson, Ronald L, Scripting the Black Masculine Body: Identity, Discourse, and Racial Politics in Popular Media, Suny: USA, 2006.

Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,’ Screen 16.3 (Autumn 1975): pg 6-18.

LOLMulvey image from alibosworth

LOLFreud image from you are doing that wrong

-> both c/o LOLTHEORISTS

LOLButler image from thrownoverboard

copying is easier than creating

Mz Tartan has posted a post about conferences that applies quite nicely to lindy exchanges. So I will now infringe her intellectual copy rights with some select copying and pasting.

  • thinking of holding a conferencen exchange? Best not. It is a far, far better thing to receive conferences exchanges than to give them. I can’t really remember what people actually said the dances I had, in most cases. I do vividly remember various people telling me that it is incredibly anxiety-producing to organise a conferencen exchange. That’s the truth. And all the while one is industriously producing anxiety one is well aware that the anxiety is ridiculous: one is not actually the person whose academic standing DJing or dancing has attracted people to this event, nor the one behind the microphone giving the talk good oil which is being intently listened danced to, let alone the person who wrote these exquisite novels songs and/or dances in honour of which everyone has gathered.
  • But here is a specimen of the type of situation which feeds anxiousness. I did not mention this en blog at the time, but back in April of this year, I came into my office one morning to find six or seven messages on my answering machine from a person who seemed to be saying she’d showed up at LTU on the weekend for the conference, and she was standing outside the venue right now and could I call her back straight away to tell her why nobody was around – where it had been moved to? Oh, and she’d come from Italy to attend. FROM ITALY. I was DJing at set in one room when the DJ from the other appeared at my side to ask where the DJ for the set following his was at. Can you imagine the abyss of horror which opened up beneath me? Can you? I’m sorry, but you can’t. The original call for papers, sent out eighteen months earlier, had indeed mentioned this weekend as the probable date, but we’d changed it very quickly to coincide with the English Teachers’ meeting. And of course nobody else had turned up. And of course ALL the subsequent promotional stuff very clearly gave the proper date. And of course it is incredible to simply turn up to a conference without at least re-checking that it’s on, or even attempting to register, or looking at the conference website. Yet, still, here she apparently was. FROM ITALY. All of the DJing rosters had been sent out ages ago and approved by all DJs concerned. We did manage to find the DJ (asleep somewhere), but it was a near thing, and yet another opportunity for public humiliation before an audience of my peers and international and interstate guests.
  • She apparently turned up again last Friday afternoon. The person on the conference desk said she’d appeared and wanted to know where her name tag was. Then we lost track of her again. I would have liked to sight her, from a safe distance (from inside a bird observation hut perhaps) but it was not to be…next time, no doubt.
  • If, in spite of this potent warning, you still want to do a conference n exchange, overbook your speakers DJs. Out of thirty-five two dozen, two will withdraw for good reasons and in plenty of time for you to make other arrangements; two will courteously let you know that they won’t be coming in time for you to pull them out of the program, one will pull out a week before, and one will pull out by email at 6:24pm on the evening before the day their paper set is scheduled at 10:45 1:30 am. This person will be emailing you not from the Australian city where she resides, but from a country that is nine hours’ flight away. How did she get there? you will wonder. Didn’t it occur to her as she got on the plane….etc
  • The sick feeling you will acquire as you contemplate what looks like the complete disintegration of your carefully assembled program will make it impossible for you to write play your own paper set with any degree of competency, so you will withdraw it, bash it out any way thus making you feel like a total hypocrite and poser. Nevertheless, there will actually be more than enough papers DJs, and you will eventually realise that all the agonising and your own self was were unnecessary.
  • Don’t cancel the wildlife tour/shopping tour/olden days architecture tour. It is what the internationals are looking forward to. You may think possums/shopping/old buildings are boring, but they do not.

Despite the extreme anxiety of previous MLXs, this year wasn’t actually all that bad. The above are really just par for the course, and what I think of as ‘inevitable screw ups’. The issue becomes not whether or not they happen, but how you deal with them when they do happen. The difference between a conference and an exchange, though, is that a couple of hundred dancers are there to have fun, and it takes quite a bit to dissuade them of their intent. Conference attendees, however, have a few more issues going on, and can be far less forgiving.
I only had one freak out during MLX, and that was on the Thursday of the weekend. My good friends and hostees took me for cake and I got over myself and it.
I find that the very most important thing about coordinating a dozen or so events over one weekend for a few hundred visitors is to remain calm. Freaking doesn’t help. I also have a rule: “no shouting”. Unless you’re shouting with delight. Shouting at people is never productive, and definitely not when the shouter is feeling angry/upset/etc. Remain cool. If you do feel a good shout/cussing out is in order, take it out the back so as to avoid broken furniture, exorbitant bar tabs and embarrassing guest DJs.
I have another solid rule: say thank you to anyone who has in any way been helpful, kind, accommodating, interested or otherwise a force for good rather than a force for inertia*. It doesn’t hurt to say thank you three or four times, but it does hurt if you don’t say it at all. Saying thank you makes you feel good, too, and so it’s a win-win deal for everyone involved.
And another rule (which is related to the previous): volunteers are the most valuable creatures at your event. DJs are generally a bit precious and high maintenance (with exceptions!), rock star dancers are a pain in the freaking arse (organise exchanges for beginners – they’re far less annoying) and fellow organisers can drive you nuts. But volunteers are gold. Love them, respect them, buy them drinks, thank them, squeeze them and underwork them. They will come back next year and figure out how to work the vacuum cleaner all on their own again.
*yes, I know.

west brunswick toodle-oo

So November is over. It was ok.

  • I had a birthday (that was ok)
  • I liked all the moustaches (I don’t think there’s enough facial hair in the world, and it made dance partners extra interesting)
  • we did mlx and it went well (biggest ever, zillions of interstaters and internationals, the usual reluctance on the part of Melbournites to play nice with guests)
  • we had galaxy plus a round of dancers stay with us (and that was very nice)
  • I did all my marking and got it in with plenty of time to spare
  • I got a job interview for a postdoc (argh! next week!)
  • I got a small grant to get me to the CSAA conference this week (double argh! paper not written! flights not booked! accommodation not sorted!)
  • I’ve had a few punters ringing me offering DJing gigs (I am resolute about only taking paying gigs – I’ve done enough freebies to know I never want to do one again, unless it’s for a real charity)
  • Galaxy and I met up with Mz Tartan pre-GG and the Austenauts (dang, I’m sorry I missed that! blogged with excellence here) and she was surprisingly cool, calm and collected

…and now I’m desperately trying to get my sleep pattern back to normal for the conference this week. I managed to have a relatively stress-free MLX (in fact, incredibly so), and slept at least 8 hours every night. From 8am til 4pm most days, but still, 8 fat hours of solid, dreamless sleep. Unheard of.
I’ve also met another dancer doing a phd on dance stuff, but she lives in Perth, so we’re squeezing in a natter-fest tomorrow before she flies out. She’s into sociology and anthropology and I’m not sure she’s up there with the hardcore sister action. But we’ll see. It’ll be neat just to sit and have a nice, nerdy chat.
I’m planning to meet up with the Adelaidean dancers during the conference visit this week (Wednesday). So I’ll be able to say I’ve danced in every scene in Australia. Except Launceston. That should be nice.
My paper is pretty much done – just some tidying up to do. It’s a combination of bits from these three posts, but obviously with far less detail, seeing as how I only get 20 minutes. 20 minutes kills me, especially when I want to play some music and clips of dancers to actually make clear what I’m talking about. It’s ridiculous to talk about dancing without showing any, particularly when you’re talking about gender performance in dance. In fact, it’s so ridiculous I should just show 6 clips and provide an exercise sheet to stimulate group discussion, a la tutorials past.
I’ve also noted I’m in kind of a dud session, parallel with papers I’d really like to see, and which everyone else would really like to see as well. Not a big deal, really, and just desserts for someone who fucked the programming around at the last minute (I’d missed out on another grant and cancelled on the organisers, then been offered one by someone else, so squeezed back into the program – people who pull that shit deserve to get dud sessions). But it’s parallel with an old buddy’s paper and in a session of licorice allsorts, so we’ll have trouble asking each other questions. It is in the last session of a day, but this time it’s not the last session of the last day, so I guess it’s ok.
I don’t mean this to sound like a big old bitch – I really am very lucky to be going at all, and I don’t want you to think otherwise. But the part of me that’s trying to get a job keeps saying ‘how will you pimp your fine self out if there’s no one in the audience?’ But really, it only takes one. And there’ll be plenty of afternoon teas for me to pimp myself about. I’m cringing, writing that stuff. I hate the thought of such aggressive self aggrandising, but at the end of the day, in such a competitive job market, I have to be a bit pushy.
So I’m going to experiment with performing pushiness, and pretend like I’m one of those blokes who, obliviously, introduces himself to all the Names at conferences. It’s the sort of thing chicks tend to be reluctant to do. And as a consequence, those pushy blokes get remembered, simply because the chicks have been to shy to step up.
But I’m going to focus on Names that mean something to me – you know, the Old Girls network. The ladies who do. The sorts of women academics who I admire and want to work with and be like. They’re the ladies who’ll call me on bullshit pushiness and demand some sort of fer real talk. No bullshit (unless it’s a story about my career as a stunt woman and there are Tasmanians in the room), all kick arse Sister. No pathetic arse-kissing. No sycophancy…. like I’d have the patience for that. And for sure I’d forget that it’s not cool to swear in polite company. Must remember that for the job interview, actually. Swearing = not cool.
But we’ll see. No doubt I’ll forget all these plans and end up talking shit and eating all the chocolate biscuits with the homies from UQ. Awesome.
Galaxy asked me the other day if I’d written a ‘why dance is important to cultural studies’ paper, and I haven’t. I’m not sure I really, hugely care – if you don’t dance you don’t understand why it’s important. Words won’t help convince you – you have to feel it to understand why it’s good stuff. But I do have a short list of reasons which include things like ‘class’ and ‘not needing literacy’ and ‘ethnicity’ and ‘faster than words’ and ‘freakin’ great fun!’ I’ll have a think, though. Perhaps it’ll be a paper I write when I actually have a job or a book or more than half a dozen papers. Right now I think I’d get more from a paper called ‘Why cultural studies needs dogpossum’ which is so effective it gets me lots of jobs. But I’ll work on it.

crazed and manic jubilation

I just found out that my thesis was passed WITHOUT CORRECTIONS!!
I have done the crazy happy dance about 10 times already (lots of high kicks up into the air, a few twirly spin-arounds, some random jiggling).
If I hurry I can do the graduation thing in March/April.
So I am now Dr dogpossum (mostly)! Hoorah!
…remind me to write about the dance conference, will you? I met some lovely (and awe-inspiring) young dancers who work with companies like Bangarra (and how did I introduce myself? “You guys rock!” – I am all about cool. But they did – their mini-performance blew me away!), networked like a crazy person, discovered someone who has Graybags for a supes (and knows Galaxy), told some inappropriate jokes, shared Frida and the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers with a bunch of doods who understood what I’ve been trying to say about them and ate some of the best conference food EVER.
[and hoorah for the markers – the thesis was sent to them at the end of September, and they had the marks to me by today – that’s under 3 months turnaround time]

Australian-Melbourne-Irish-Global media?

As some of you know, I’m booked in to give a paper at the annual CSAA conference in Canberra in December. I wrote about my abstract here and moaned about not scoring a bursary here.
Well, things have actually turned around a bit since then. I have actually scored a smallish grant from the nice people at the CSAA, which will cover my conference registration and part of my airfare. Yay.
So, come December, I’m flying up to the Can to talk theoretical turkey with acadackas, hang out with my old school friend Kate (no, not ‘old skewl’, nor is she particularly ‘old’ – she is a friend I have had for a long time) and possibly see some local dancers.
This was all very nice to hear – I’m quite proud of having scored a competitive grant from an organisation which will look good on my CV. I’m also happy to be funded for my trip to the Can – I need to get a job some time soon, and these things are good networking activities… though I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging about with old UQ buddies. And as you can see from this entry, I seemed to spend more time thinking about jazz than any professional business at the last CSAA conference.
So anyways, I’m off to do a paper.
Here is the abstract again:

Swing Talk and Swing Dance: online and embodied networks in the ‘Australian’ swing dance community.
Since its revival in the 1980s, lindy hop and other swing dances have become increasingly popular with middle class youth throughout the developed world.
There are vibrant local swing dance communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for whom dancing – an embodied cultural practice – is the most important form of social interaction. Swing dancers will travel vast distances and spend large amounts of money solely to attend dance events in other cities. The success and appeal of these events lies in their promotion as unique and showcasing their local dance ‘scene’.
In travel itineraries which criss-cross the country, swing dancers develop networks between local communities that are not only cemented by their embodied interpersonal interaction, but also by their uses of digital media. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the online Swing Talk discussion board is utilised by Australian swing dancers to develop personal relationships with dancers in other cities, which in turn serve to develop relationships between local communities. This insistence of local community identity in swing dance culture in Australia defies a definition of a ‘national’ swing dance community. I describe the ways in which ‘Australian’ swing dance is an ‘unAustralia’ – not a homogenous ‘whole’ but a network of embodied and mediated relationships between diverse local communities and individuals.

Right now I’m having trouble remembering what I wanted to write about. I suspect there wasn’t actually a lot of planning in there. But I have started to have some ideas. Of course stimulated by my impending trip to SLX (I’ll be off to the tram stop in a few hours – nursing this horrid cold that’s sprung up), but also prompted by planning for MLX6 planning.
Have a listen to this:

powered by ODEO
(which you can find here on the MLX6 music page).
Now, if that’s not an advertisement for glocal community, I don’t know what is. I mean, before we even get to the dance/exchange stuff, we’re listening to an Irish guy pimping Australian jazz for a Melbourne exchange to an international audience. Neat stuff, huh?
This is the stuff about lindy hoppers that I really love: the way they go nuts and do all sorts of creative things – off as well as on the dance floor. And much of this creative work is centered on big dance events like exchanges and camps. There are lots of film clips, mini-films, websites, DVDs, etc etc – and a couple of special official CDs produced – but I’m beginning to get interested in the way swing dancers use radio and audio technology. Specifically, digital audio technology. I mean, there is all that stuff about DJing, but swing dancers do other really interesting things as well: Yehoodi radio is streaming music chosen by swing dancing DJs from all over the world, the Yehoodi Talk Show is really just a chance for a couple of engaging dance/music nerds to have a chat online and Hey Mr Jess is even nerdier – a particularly lovely DJ chatting about swing music and DJing with another dance/music nerd.
Hello podcasts.
This promotional podcast by one of our MLX6 crew is interesting for the way it combines samples from local musicians’ albums (these are all bands we’re hosting for MLX6, from Melbourne and Sydney) – they’re all still living, all contemporary artists – with pimpage for our event.
I do need to sit down and do a bit of analysis of the content, but this is some interesting stuff. Radio has proved a particularly effective medium for connecting dancers in different countries – a natural complement to discussion boards. And this is one of (if not the) first Australian contribution to the international lindy hop radio world (excluding contributions by local DJs to the Yehoodi radio show) – this is the first locally produced Australian swing dance radio ‘bit’. And it’s narrated by an Irishman!
I do need to sit down and think about how this works: the way ‘Melbourne’ is presented, the way ‘Australia’ is presented, and how different audiences within and without Australia (and Melbourne) might receive/interpret/read this text, but it’s a starting point – a bit of motivation – for my paper. At the very least, I can add that to my usual list of clips and photos for the presentation – always fun to do.
–edit: you know, part of my brain is also a bit interested in the way I’ve used that odeo plugin, there: most times you see those sorts of things they’re ‘invisible’, in the way my sidebar over there is largely ‘invisible’ from the main body of the page over here. But I’ve actually framed that odeo thingy as something to use and listen to, rather than just stuffing it into my sidebar or at the bottom of this post. It’s an interesting contrast to the livefm thingy over there in the sidebar (which is still stuffed and giving me the shits). I am, of course, delighted and fascinated by all this convergence action – my blog as combining audio and visual as well as written? Let’s see a newspaper try that then! Of course, this issue is one I’ve been plaguing my students with lately in tutes – as I heard in a Media Report story about cross-media ownership and digital technology, the cross-media ownership legislation kind of collapses when faced with the internet and the fancy things newspapers have been doing online: they combine av with traditional ‘static’ text… and bloggage, and audio, and… lots of other lovely stuff.
This is such a great time to be a media studies stooge! How could you not love the internet?!

abstract frenzy

I’m feeling a bit confused. A couple of months ago I went over the list of upcoming conferences and did a heap of abstracts, including one for this year’s CSAA conference. Here’s the call for papers:

f things are ‘un-Australian’ it must be because they come from UNAUSTRALIA.
Where is it?
Who lives there?
How does it come to be?
What is its past and what is its future?
While raising some very local questions of critique and desire, the theme is open to international perspectives and interpretations.
Do other places have their own unplaces? What goes on there?
UNTHEMED papers are also welcome.

I got all confused before I figured out what conference/what abstract/wuh? was going on.
I’m not too inspired by the conference theme, even though I do do a fair bit of work on global/local stuff, but almost two months ago to the day I pulled out this action:

Swing Talk and Swing Dance: online and embodied networks in the ‘Australian’ swing dance community.
Since its revival in the 1980s, lindy hop and other swing dances have become increasingly popular with middle class youth throughout the developed world.
There are vibrant local swing dance communities in Melbourne, Sydney, Hobart, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane for whom dancing – an embodied cultural practice – is the most important form of social interaction. Swing dancers will travel vast distances and spend large amounts of money solely to attend dance events in other cities. The success and appeal of these events lies in their promotion as unique and showcasing their local dance ‘scene’.
In travel itineraries which criss-cross the country, swing dancers develop networks between local communities that are not only cemented by their embodied interpersonal interaction, but also by their uses of digital media. In this paper, I examine the ways in which the online Swing Talk discussion board is utilised by Australian swing dancers to develop personal relationships with dancers in other cities, which in turn serve to develop relationships between local communities. This insistence of local community identity in swing dance culture in Australia defies a definition of a ‘national’ swing dance community. I describe the ways in which ‘Australian’ swing dance is an ‘unAustralia’ – not a homogenous ‘whole’ but a network of embodied and mediated relationships between diverse local communities and individuals.

It’s interesting to see a few other abstracts – here, here and here.
I’ll only go if I score their grant thingy for pgrads/early career types. I can’t afford to get there (air fares) or to pay to get in ($190). I doubt my paper is clever enough or sexy enough to score me some free money. But them’s the breaks. Nor am I sure it’s an especially great time for me to attend a conference – once again it’s on the weekend after MLX, which will keep me more than a little busy.
Not to mention the whole writing a paper thing. I’m kind of a bit tired of writing…

phew. draft1 done

Draft #1 of the paper for the CSAA conference is done. I’ve yet to source some decent footage of social dancing to insert (though I’ll do that easily over the next few weeks: have video camera, will film), and the supes has to look through it for me (not til after the weekend she said, but I understand), but it’s looking pretty dang ok.
Once that’s under control, I can get back to the chapters. The final chapter has been rewritten/replanned to discuss schools and other institutional bodies in Melbourne swing culture, rather than a discussion of camps and exchanges, mostly because the camps/exchanges thing just wasn’t working. The schools chapter, however, seems to make more sense. So I’ve absorbed the important parts of that camps chapter (well, I will absorb them – when I get back to editing) and I have to write that schools chapter. It should go ok. Once I get back into it. I’m feeling pretty low-stress and keen to write. I think I’m going to thank Firefly for that.
[BG, btw, is getting sillier and more desperate for plottage by the minute… man, I should not have watched the two together]
On a slightly different tack, the mlx5 stuff is rolling along smoothly. Want to buy a Tshirt? Completed a final draft of the final pamphlet (program and whatnot) and it’s looking pretty dang sweet. Alls I really have to get sorted now is the volunteer roster (not so hard, really: Brian’s ob-con tendencies in that department mean that I’ve a good idea of how many people are needed when. Now all I have to do is
match personalities/availabilties and jobs.
… oh, and do all the little jobs that have accumulated.
I’m quite looking forward to the MLX weekend: it’s going to be fuuu-uuun.
Meanwhile, I have a few sewing projects that need finishing, and I’m about to go to yoga (in about an hour and a half). I haven’t been in a while because I’ve been busy and distracted by other things (mostly the couch), and I’m looking forward to it tonight. Isn’t my life exciting?

conferences = exchanges

I’m booked to do a paper in Sydney the weekend after MLX5 at the CSSA conference. I’m keen to listen to some papers (oh, how naive of me!) but I’m also a bit unkeen about the wanky cultural studies bullshit. I’m sure I’ll meet some nice people and have a lovely time, though.
The paper is on camps and exchanges as ‘fixes’ (a la the theme: culture fix). Which is kind of interesting as I’m coming straight from running MLX. We only have 30 mins all up (or is it 20…?) so, after clippage (which is mandatory), I’ll only have about 15 minutes to talk. Which is a shame, as I love to talk. And I love to give loooong, boring papers. But it’ll be a relief for the punters…. I hope I can narrow it down to just the one point.
What will that point be?
Something about how camps and exchanges are like fan conventions I think. Something about the appeal/addictiveness of camps/exchanges and the en masse and utterly intense experience of a camp/exchange? Surely I can make some sort of comment about wild men’s weekends and immersion events…
Heck, it’ll be fun: I’ve scored $$ for the fare, I’m staying with local swingers (yay!) and I’m going to see if I can get in for free/cheap for volunteering. It will be a nice break after MLX I think.
Or perhaps it’ll be all about the parallels between academic conferences and lindy exchanges… or is that too painfully wanky even for a cultural studies conference? It’ll certainly make the point about the arbitrary (and ideological) demarkation of ‘the field’ and ‘the academy’, or ‘subjects’ and ‘researchers’ …

my djing paper

i’m giving a paper on djing in the department today/tomorrow, and i need a copy i can print out at work. so i’ve emailed it to myself and i’m uploading it here. ah, the ultimate public private…
Download file