Right now I’m reading this book – What Made Pistachio Nuts? by Henry Jenkins. It’s about vaudville aesthetic and the shift to narrative in early comedy-musical Hollywood film (1930s or so). Sorry, that sounded like I can’t speak or write English.
Anyway, it’s by Henry Jenkins and it’s interesting. I was reading it on the tram Tuesday and did get momentarily distracted by the elephants (you can see them from the tram as you pass the zoo). And frankly, who wouldn’t be? I hope I never cease to be distracted by real live elephants.
I’ll report back when I’ve read more.
If I do put the schools chapter last, I think I’ll use it in the following way:
I begin with Afro-American vernacular dance because contemporary swing dance culture itself ‘begins’ with af-am v dance. The ‘original swing era’ is a powerful myth in swing culture. It is used to justify many cultural and social practices, beginning with actually dancing itself – learning to dance swing dances is seen as a way of ‘reviving’ dances from this ‘original swing era’. The idea that these dances need reviving implies that they are in some way ‘dead’ or otherwise incapacitated. Literature discussing vernacular dances makes the point that they are continually changing and responding to cultural and social context as cultural discourse. For a particular dance step or dance style to be danced, it must retain relevance. In other words, dances ‘go out of style’ because they no longer appeal or embody the needs and interests of dancers. This is quite often related to changes in musical form – swing dances like the lindy hop were replaced by dances which were better ‘suited’ to the successive musical forms, and to the needs of successive generations of dancers.
The point is also made in much of the literature dealing with Afro-American vernacular dance, that particular moves or movements are not always wholly lost. The cross-generational nature of vernacular dance – it occurs in ordinary, everyday, cross-generational community spaces rather than in segregated ‘youth’ or other spaces – means that dance steps are more likely to move between generations than in generationally-segregated dance traditions.
The lindy hop, then is not ‘dead’ – it is still present in the movements and bodies of Afro-American dances today.
To declare that it is dead is to make an ideological statement about creative and cultural form. It is an act of power. It is also shifting the dance form out of Afro-American vernacular dance discourse and into middle class, urban youth culture. This shift is achieved through the use of a range of communications technology – media – and through institutional mediation of dance-discourse (schools or studios). This shift – this cultural transmission – is inflected by power and ideology and wider social relations. The ‘revival’ of swing dances in non-Afro-American communities is an embodiment of relationships between white-dominated middle class, mainstream discourse in the USA, Australia, Europe (and ethnically congruent groups in Korea, Singapore and Japan), etc and Afro-American people today.
The thesis, then, will begin with Afro-American vernacular dance, positioning lindy hop and other swing dances within a tradition of vernacular dance and identifying the cultural social uses and forms of dance in this context. Particular themes in Afro-American vernacular dance are identified in this initial chapter, and then attended to in later chapters. This thesis reads swing dancing as an Afro-American vernacular dance form which has been transmitted to another culture – another time and space and group of people. This approach is an attempt to question the centrality of white, middle class heterosexual cultural in Australian discourse. It is also an attempt to assess the processes of hegemony in the appropriation of a black dance form for a white community.
This first chapter also positions dance as cultural discourse – as a series of texts and positionings and relationships guided by ideology and instutitions – the ideas and beliefs of individuals and groups. It suggests that swing dance culture today – the embodied practices of contemporary swing dance communities – carry evidence of the ideological and social practice of its participants. The primary concern of this thesis is with the role of media in these practices.
Afro-American vernacular dance – though inflected by various media technologies such as radio, film and recorded music – is centered on face to face interaction – embodied practice.
Contemporary swing dance culture is far more heavily informed by media technology.
The second chapter pursues this point, noting the ways in which contemporary swing dance culture is mediated both by communications technology, and by insitutional bodies – the dance school or studio specificially.
This chapter also introduces the ways in which contemporary swing dance culture is a localised global community of interest. Afro-American vernacular dance is a product of African diaspora, carrying within it an embodied history of African culture, slavery in America, emancipation, oppression and finally movements towards cultural autonomy and freedom. Each decendent of that original African diaspora – each Africanist society – is unique and inflects cultural form in unique ways. There are distinctions to be made within the ‘Afro-American’ community, across time and geography – local distinctions.
Contemporary swing dance culture is a localised ‘global’ community. The community is not necessarily one of ethnic or genetic heritage – it is one of interest and cultural form. The links between local communities are maintained by travel and by media use and practice.
The second chapter introduces the notion of a community of dancers which is heavily mediated.
The third chapter begins an analysis of the forms of this mediation in contemporary swing dance culture. It examines the uses of Audio-Visual media in three periods in contemporary swing dance culture – the original ‘revivalist’ era of the 1980s, the rise of significant local communities in the 1990s, and the development of a locally inflected global community of dancers in the 2000s. The first period is characterised by the use of archival film in the revival of swing dances – footage of dancers from the ‘original swing era’. The second period is noted for the rise of videos produced by local communities and individuals in the promotion (and commodification) of local teachers and events. Specificially, commemorative videos for camps and exchanges and instructional videos. The third era, however, is characterised by the massive increase in AV media production, disemination and consumption in swing communities around the world made possible by the development of digital AV media technology. Here, dancers not only download and view clips filmed in other communities, they also film themselves and members of their own community to upload and share with the wider international swing dance community.
These three periods are broadly read as correlating with the face to face dance themes of immitation and impersonation; improvisation and innovation; and a later combination of the two, as dancers have increased access to both archival footage and images of contemporary dancers in their embodied dance practices, which they then film and disseminate.
The fourth chapter explores DJing in contemporary swing dance culture. The rise of DJs as a distinct role and identity in local communities is an indication of that community’s age and development of cultural form and practice. DJs not only make extensive use of digital media in their embodied practice – playing music for dancers – they are also making great use of digitial media in their acquisition, research and discussion of music online. Swing DJs have also developed an international community of interest which complements their face to face practices in their local community.
This chapter reads DJing in terms of impersonation and immitation in DJ’s choice of music and DJing style (specifically, in their intensely ‘recreationist’ ideology), yet also sees them as innovating and improvising in both their online and face to face practices. DJing in swing culture is seen not only as the ability to recreate musical moments from the past, but also as being capable of responding to the immediate needs and demands of the dancers on the floor before them.
Both AV media and DJing practice in swing dance culture are mediated by their relationship to – or place within – various discourses wihtin local and global communities. The final chapter explores the local Melbourne swing dance community as one which has increasingly become the preserve of one major institution – a dance school. This school not only manages the face to face events at which DJs work but also discursively manages the music DJs play and dancers’ responses to this music. This discourse is not only embodied in dance classes and at events, but also exists online in newsletters, websites and other ‘official’ discursive texts and forms. Schools also produce official AV media – videos and DVDs – though their management of ‘unofficial’ digital media is more complex.
The final chapter of this thesis explores the role of the swing dance school in contemporary Melbourne swing dance culture, and the ways in which it mediates embodied dance practice within this community. This chapter explores the commodification of dance – through classes and performances – and the twin imperatives of creating and sustaining a market which motivate schools’ social and cultural activities. Swing dance schools justify their activities with the revivalist myth that they are ‘recreating’ and ‘reviving’ a vanished art form and cultural practice. This notion is used to justify the commodification of dance, and the management of face to face practice in ways which impede the development of a contemporary vernacular dance culture in Melbourne.
This chapter is concerned with the ways in which pedagogy – as practice and ethos – is utilised in the commodification of cultural practice, and in the mediation of discourse.
This chapter sees dance schools as emphasising immitation and impersonation rather than innovation and improvisation in both teaching and discursive practice, and discouraging alternative forms of learning and acquiring knowledge which deconstruct challenge institutional heirarchies of knowledge and – consequently – power.
The thesis closes with this chapter as an examination of a local swing dance community where institutional discourse attempts to manage a local dance discourse in an increasingly globalised – or internationally networked community. Changes in this school’s internal practices and discursive practices are read as responses to these community changes which attempt to reposition dance as a commodity – a product to be bought and sold – rather than as a process of cultural production or a discourse which can be made or created or participated in beyond the bounds of institutional discourse or practice.
A thesis round-up:
– I have completed a full draft of the thesis. Yes. My candidacy technically runs out on the 7th February, but I took a month or two (or 6 weeks?) of sick leave when mum was ill. So I guess I’m to finish up at the end of March? I’m thinking of applying for the extension. I have some completion anxiety.
Last meeting with the supes (or the meeting before), we decided to ditch the last chapter on camps and to replace it with a chapter on schools. Or institutional bodies, really. So the thesis will be:
ch 1: afro-american vernacular dance
ch 2: contemporary swing dance culture
ch 3: AV media
ch 4: DJing
and then ch 5: schools
But we’re thinking maybe the schools chapter should go after/before the contemporary swing dance culture chapter (it seems to make the most sense there).
We are having Big Question issues. We meaning me.
And I haven’t written that schools chapter yet (though it is so thoroughly planned). I have a little resumption anxiety. I don’t know if I can start that chapter again. Eeeek. I reckon it’s a manifestation of my completion anxiety: once I finish the chapter, I’ll be that one step closer to completing. And that is some scary shit.
So I’m distracting myself with the Ears Nose and Throat doctor I have to go to (bad ears, bad ears). I turned up there at 11.15 today to realise the appointment is tomorrow. Yay. So I’m going back tomorrow. More yay.
But maybe the schools chapter won’t be so bad.
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?
Sure, it looks like I’m wasting time while I should be thesising. And yes, I have downloaded and watched a bunch of dance clips, solved a few minor MLX problems, uploaded a page on the MLX site to plug the new Tshirts (only $22 each, btw and tres sexy), blogged like I’m avoiding something, altered a skirt and had breakfast today. And all after getting up at 12pm (it’s this blocked ear: I’m sleeping like the dead, for hours and blissfully uninterrupted hours).
But that doesn’t mean I haven’t also written a draft of the paper I’m giving at the CSSA conference (complete with stupid jokes about Dancing with the Stars and comparisons between academic conference goers and lindy-crazed exchange punters). I’ve even inserted at least one clip of blues dancers to make a point (and a joke), and surveyed other clips, looking for the perfect bit of footage to open the paper with. Hence the interest in clips today: it’s research.
It is quite lovely to be back on the insanely productive horse again. Sigh. I’ve had enough of thesis-blockage issues, and what seems to be an ever-increasing case of thesis-completion-anxiety. Something only those of us who’ve been at uni since 1993 (seriously – only 2 6month periods off!) can lay claim to.
Oh, I should note: I’ve been watching Firefly, because we finally got around to getting it, and because we saw Serenity and it galvanised us. We love Firefly. It’s better than Battlestar Galactica even, because BG takes itself sooooo seriously, andFirefly is for clever postmodern people like us. And it has queer-friendly jokes which makes me happy and silly gun jokes which make Dave happy.
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’ …
I have recently read ths article and I have some issues with it.
Having read the blog entry to which the article referrs, and having read that bloggers’ site for a while, I suspect the article’s author has gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Not one to pull my punches, I’ve no trouble with public scuffling. in fact, i quite like it. most of the time. the age article, however, seems misinformed. the blogger – who i don’t actually know in person (though i think we’ve met), but who’s blog i read and who i’ve ‘spoken’ to online in blog comments and other discussions, is one of the least confrontational and least stroppy bloggers i know. the article’s author is kind of, well, wrong in the things she’s read. down with her. up with everyone else.
to return to the age’s article.
that piece is fairly sorry-arse in content and thought. i’ve only read through it once or twice (quickly) and am writing this entry quickly (i want to return to this topic, though), but i was struck by this bit: the article’s author apparently sees the rise of blogging as part of the
democratisation of debate
i shake my head.
really: are we still buying that old line? i mean, really, who’s believed that the internet and blogging is in any way a demonstration of democracy?
the ‘internet’ … wait, … the Internet … is hardly a democratic place, with all voices of all citizens present in any type of equitable discourse. it’s the territory of white middle class kids. and most of those are blokes.
i want to mention that i read that age article online.
i want to talk about journalism and blogging and blogging as ‘journalism’.
i want to talk about public and private talk (and the bullshit myth that the two were ever different animals).
i have so much more to say about this article, but i have to go to a party and i don’t want to go cranky. plus i have a new dress to go try on. priorities.
but if the slandered blogger is reading this, please: ignore that rubbishy article. it’s a bundle of crap. and the clearest case of bullying i’ve read in a while.
it’s time to get into the chapter writing hardcore. no more stuffing around. no more reading exciting things. there are a couple of references i’d like to chase down (mostly stuart hall stuff, but heck. there you go), but it’s time to say Stop. Get On With It.
so i am. yesterday i wrote a chapter outline. today i’ve looked at the chapter outline. i know it’ll be a good chapter. i know it. now i just need to get into it.
this is the hard bit. starting to write. i know i can pull 13000 words out of my bum hoo-pah! no worries. but getting started… and i need to get it done because editing will take ages. it always does.
i’m also thinking about getting involved in this. the deal is that you write a 50 000 word novel in a month. not that hard for me, actually. that’s about 1600 words a day. piece of piss for me.
so of course, to procastinate over writing the thesis (55000 words or so left), i decide to write 50 000 words worth of a novel.
nice one, sistah. very clever.
maybe i should take the challenge and write my thesis’s 50 000 words in this one month? over november.
hmmm. now that’s likely. the mlx is on at the end of november, so i can write a week off there, what with visitors and dancing and all. my birthday is on the 11th, so there’ll be some days there where i’ll be 100% distracted. my mother is coming up to stay on the 14th or so. my dad is up on the 9th or thereabouts.
sure, this’ll be a piece of cake.
by todd gitlin (in cultural studies in question, edited by marjorie ferguson and peter golding, 1997). i’m not really sure how i feel about it.
i mean, i’ve had troubles with the work done by quite a few people in cultural studies programs in the unis i’ve been at – they just seemed depoliticised in a worrying way. especially to me, whose always done feminist work where i’ve really tried to make my research practical, have some sort of political use-value.
and gitlin is echoing all that, but he seems fairly tough. and he’s really getting into the cultural studies people of today. his key point is that they shouldn’t pretend that they’re doing ‘politics’ just because they’re doing popular/populist stuff. that doing ‘politics’ is actually a bit more complicated (and he places ‘politics’ right over there in the activist camp, doing things like rallying and protesting and writing pamphlets and so on).
i’m a bit torn…
he’s very critical of things like radway and modleski’s work on women’s romance novel reading, and pretty much says that we shouldn’t treat that as political activism.
… i don’t know. on the one hand i agree with a lot of the things he has to say. and on the other, i wonder if he’s being too harsh.
either way, his concerns are very similar to the ones i have when i read the horrid wench’s blog, and when i heard her speak about her work on bogans.
i’m not in that gang. i’m with the people who still want to politicise stuff (which she doesn’t – she confesses that she has no interest in politics – stink of ‘politics’ much?). i also want to get feminist in this sort of work…
hm. dilemma. i need to find a response to this article.
Iâ€™ve decided that a trip to Europe to spend some time at a lindy hop dance camp hanging out with swingers is essential to my thesis. Admittedly, I went into this thinking a university funded trip to Herrang would be a total scam. Complete rort.
But the whole application for funding and ethics process has changed my tune.