dance

2Over at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery made a great observation about the conservative response to Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show.  Conservatives widely criticized her for sexually objectifying herself.  She made her “sex appeal the main attraction,” said one commentator, who said that Beyoncé “humping the stage and flashing her lady bits to the camera” made her “sad.” Another said that her performance was “tasteless and unedifying.”

Dusenbery notes that the definition of sexual objectification is the reduction of a person to their sex appeal only.  And, ironically, this is what the conservative commentators did to Beyoncé, not something she did to herself.  Sexual objectification is not found in a person’s clothing choices or dance moves; instead:

[Objectification is] watching Beyoncé’s show — where she demonstrated enormous professional skill by singing live, with an awesome all-women band I might add, while dancing her ass off in front of millions of people — and not being able to see anything besides her sexy outfit.

Indeed, these conservative commentators are arguing that Beyoncé’s talent can only be fully be appreciated in the absence of sex appeal (whatever that might look like).  And that is the problem. Dusenbery continues:

These commentators reflect a “culture in which too many people seem to find it difficult to understand that it is possible to simultaneously find a woman sexually attractive and treat her like a full human being deserving of basic respect.”

Right on.  To me, Beyoncé’s performance — along with those of her band mates and fellow dancers and singers — embodied strength and confidence; the pleasure of being comfortable in one’s own skin and the ability to use your body to tell a story; and the power that comes from being admired for the talents you’ve worked so hard to cultivate.  I don’t see how you could watch this and only see a sexual object:

Via Racialicious.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2012.  Cross-posted at Jezebel, the Huffington Post, and Pacific Standard.

You might be surprised to learn that at its inception in the mid-1800s cheerleading was an all-male sport.  Characterized by gymnastics, stunts, and crowd leadership, cheerleading was considered equivalent in prestige to an American flagship of masculinity, football.  As the editors of Nation saw it in 1911:

…the reputation of having been a valiant “cheer-leader” is one of the most valuable things a boy can take away from college.  As a title to promotion in professional or public life, it ranks hardly second to that of having been a quarterback.*

Indeed, cheerleading helped launch the political careers of three U.S. Presidents.  Dwight D. Eisenhower, Franklin Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan were cheerleaders. Actor Jimmy Stewart was head cheerleader at Princeton. Republican leader Tom DeLay was a noted cheerleader at the University of Mississippi.

Women were mostly excluded from cheerleading until the 1930s. An early opportunity to join squads appeared when large numbers of men were deployed to fight World War I, leaving open spots that women were happy to fill.


When the men returned from war there was an effort to push women back out of cheerleading (some schools even banned female cheerleaders).  The battle over whether women should be cheerleaders would go on for several decades.  Argued one opponent in 1938:

[Women cheerleaders] frequently became too masculine for their own good… we find the development of loud, raucous voices… and the consequent development of slang and profanity by their necessary association with [male] squad members…**

Cheerleading was too masculine for women!  Ultimately the effort to preserve cheer as an man-only activity was unsuccessful.  With a second mass deployment of men during World War II, women cheerleaders were here to stay.

The presence of women changed how people thought about cheering.  Because women were stereotyped as cute instead of “valiant,” the reputation of cheerleaders changed.  Instead of a pursuit that “ranks hardly second” to quarterbacking, cheerleading’s association with women led to its trivialization.  By the 1950s, the ideal cheerleader was no longer a strong athlete with leadership skills, it was someone with “manners, cheerfulness, and good disposition.”  In response, boys pretty much bowed out of cheerleading altogether. By the 1960s, men and megaphones had been mostly replaced by perky co-eds and pom-poms:

Cheerleading in the sixties consisted of cutesy chants, big smiles and revealing uniforms.  There were no gymnastic tumbling runs.  No complicated stunting.  Never any injuries.  About the most athletic thing sixties cheerleaders did was a cartwheel followed by the splits.***

Cheerleading was transformed.

Of course, it’s not this way anymore.  Cultural changes in gender norms continued to affect cheerleading. Now cheerleaders, still mostly women, pride themselves in being both athletic and spirited, a blending of masculine and feminine traits that is now considered ideal for women.

See also race and the changing shape of cheerleading and the amazing disappearing cheerleading outfit.

Citations after the jump:

more...

Cross-posted at Caroline Heldman’s Blog.Magic Mike is “wildly overperforming” at the box office because women and gay men are going to see it in droves.  Thank you Hollywood executives for finally noticing that there’s plenty of money to be made off of heterosexual female and gay male sexuality.  Magic Mike purports to be a movie that caters to het women, and while it does provide a highly unusual public space for women to objectify men, the movie in fact prioritizes male sexual pleasure in tired, sexist ways.

Watching Magic Mike was an experience.  Many of the female theater-goers around me were hollering demands (e.g., “take it all off, baby!”) and grunting approvingly during dance scenes.  The camera unabashedly focused tight on the dancer’s abs and buttocks, requiring viewers to objectify the male actors.  I’ve written elsewhere that living in a culture that objectifies girls/women is highly damaging, and emerging male objectification is a corporate wet dream to sell products by creating new body dissatisfactions/markets.

Make no bones about it, this movie is all about reinforcing the notion that men are in control and men’s sexuality matters more.  It baffles me that the filmmakers were so effective in conveying these themes in a movie about male strippers that a mostly female audience is eating up.  Have we learned to devalue our own sexual pleasure so thoroughly that the scraps of het female sexual pleasure provided by Magic Mike feel like a full meal?

Aside from the questionably-empowering viewer interaction with the film, the content of Magic Mike is old-school sexism wrapped in a new package.  It reinforces prevailing notions of masculinity where white men are in control, both economically and sexually, and women are secondary characters to be exploited for money and passed around for male sexual pleasure.

Most of the women in the film are audience members portrayed as easily manipulated cash cows to be exploited for money.  In one scene, the club boss, Dallas (Matthew McConaughey) gets his dancers pumped up before a show by asking them, “Who’s got the cock?  You do.  They don’t.”  Dallas has a running commentary that forcefully rejects the idea that female audience members are sexual subjects in the exchange.

Beyond the foundational theme of male control, many (but not all) of the simulated sex acts the dancers perform in their interactions with female audience members service the male stripper’s pleasure, not hers.  Dancers shove women’s faces into their crotch to simulate fellatio, hump women’s faces, perform faux sex from behind without a nod to clitoral stimulation, etc.  As a culture, we have deprioritized female sexual pleasure to such a great extent that these acts seem normal in a setting where they don’t make sense.While the men in Magic Mike strut their sexual stuff with a plot line that constantly reaffirms their sexual subjectivity, the few supporting female roles show women in surprisingly pornified, objectifying ways.  Magic Mike is pretty tame when it comes to male bodies.  Lots of floor and face humping, but no penis or even close-up penis tease shots through banana hammocks.  In fact, viewers aren’t exposed to any male body part that they wouldn’t see at Venice Beach.  The same cannot be said for women.

The movie features gratuitous breast scenes galore (yes, the breasts are the scene) and full body (side and back) female nudity. One of the male stripper’s wives is reduced to a pair of breasts that are passed around when her husband encourages another male stripper to fondle them because “she loves it.”  The few recurring female roles in the cast are flat with no character development, including the romantic interest, while the white men in the film enjoy extensive character development.

Other disturbing moments are peppered throughout the movie.  Magic Mike (Channing Tatum) makes a thinly veiled rape innuendo when he’s “teaching” a younger guy how to approach a woman at a club: “Look what she’s wearing. She’s asking to be bothered.”  The movie also asks viewers to laugh at a larger woman who hurts a dancer’s back when he picks her up (see photo and trailer below).  And one of the main characters has a homophobic reaction when he’s grossed out that his sister thinks he’s gay.  Also, this is a story about white men where both women and men of color exist at the margins.  The Latino DJ is a drug dealer (how original), and the two Latino dancers barely talk.I was heartened and humored by grandmas and teenage girls asserting their sexual subjectivity in the theater by yelling at the screen.  It is wonderful to see so many women spending money for an experience that purports to cater to our sexual desires.  We want to feel powerful when it comes to our sexuality because we’re constantly robbed of sexual subjectivity through popular culture, pornography, the male gaze, and in the bedroom.  One Sexual Revolution later, men are still twice as likely to achieve orgasm than women during sex.

If Magic Mike is our sexual outlet, we deserve something better.  When women turn around and engage in the same objectification that harms us, is that empowering?  When the men we’re objectifying on the screen are degrading women and prioritizing their own sexual pleasure, and we eroticize this behavior, is that empowering?  And when women eroticize sexual acts that don’t involve the clitoris/orgasm, is that empowering?  I don’t have definitive answers to these questions, but I do know that Magic Mike would have been a radically different film had it truly been about female sexual pleasure.  It’s high time more women were calling the shots in Hollywood and making mainstream movies that feature female sexual pleasure.

Magic Mike trailer.  To see the sexual double standard, note how the trailer frames male stripping as a “fantasy” life, and imagine this term being applied to female strippers in a Hollywood trailer.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMU7s6cwxEM]

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Peter Stearns’ Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West.  The book chronicles the shift in American history from a plump to a thin ideal.  The beauty of Stearns’ book is his resistance to reducing the shift in norms to a simple cause. Instead, he traces the changes to conflicts between capitalism and religion, the backlash against women’s equality, industrialization and the devaluation of maternal roles, fashion trends, the professionalization of medicine, our cultural relationship to food, and more.

Stearns is quite specific in timing the change, however, pointing to the years between 1890 and 1910.  In these 20 years, he writes:

…middle-class America began its ongoing battle aginst body fat.  Never previously an item of systemic public concern, dieting or guilt about not dieting became an increasing staple of private life, along with a surprisingly strong current of disgust directed against people labeled obese.

I thought of Stearns’ book when I came across a delightful collection of photographs of exotic dancers taken in 1890, the year he pinpoints as the beginning of the shift to thinness.  From a contemporary perspective, they would likely be judged as “too fat,” but their plumpness was exactly what made these dancers so desirable at the time.

More at Retronaut.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

This video, made as part of a marketing campaign for a new shopping center in East London, is a fun overview of a century of some trends in clothing, music, and dance styles, all in 100 seconds. Enjoy!

Via The Hairpin.

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.

Cheerleading started in the United States in the late 19th century as a male activity whose purpose was to organize crowds cheering at football games.   In 1923, women joined cheerleading squads and have increasingly dominated this sport.  Cheerleading traditionally features chanting, gymnastics, and tumbling.  The dominant image of cheerleaders  is a perky, always smiling, female who fits a particular body mold.

However, in the late 1970s, a new style of cheerleading emerged in North Carolina and Virginia.  This African American originated style of cheerleading is called “Stomp n Shake”.  Stomp n Shake cheerleaders have the same goals as “traditional cheerleaders” — to motivate their sports team and raise the enthusiasm of fans. However, Stomp n Shake uses African American dance/stepping aesthetics and African American bragging and insult traditions (dozens/snapping) to “pump up” their audience.  Some Stomp n Shake squads include tumbling and stunts in their repertoire, while other squads don’t.  Mostly women, Stomp n Shake cheerleaders rarely smile.  Instead their goal is to look serious and intimidating when they are chanting their cheers and performing their cheer routines.  As the name implies, hip and butt shaking are common features of Stomp n Shake routines, something usually disallowed in most mainstream competitive cheerleading.

Virginia State University Woo Woos (Work It…):

Howard University Bison Cheerleaders:

Prince Edward County High School, SASSY (We Shake The Best):

It’s also interesting to note that Stomp n Shake cheerleading squads  appears to be more accepting of cheerleaders who don’t fit the relatively slender body build of mainstream cheerleaders.  Comment threads for YouTube videos of usually include comments that certain squad members are overweight and therefore should not be cheerleaders.   Usual responses to those comments are that a “thick”(big boned) body frame is common for many Black females, and, besides,  a cheerleader’s weight has nothing to do with her cheerleading skills.

Stomp n Shake is changing the way cheerleading is performed in the United States and elsewhere, often to the dismay of many cheerleading coaches, cheerleaders, and fans who very much prefer that cheerleading remain the way it is.  However, the influence of such movies as the Bring It On cheerleader series (five movies from 2000-2009) and the posting of videos on YouTube — along with the desire of cheerleading squads to be cutting edge and “hip”– have already influenced the performance styles of some more “traditional” cheerleading squads.  It will be interesting to see whether Stomp n Shake cheerleading will also increase the acceptance in mainstream cheerleading for cheerleaders whose physical builds  are different than those of the typical cheerleader in the past and the present.

Azizi Powell earned a B.A. in sociology from Upsala College, East Orange New Jersey.  She is a retired health & human services administrator, a mother and grandmother, and a free lance artist (African storyteller).  She curates two cultural websites Cocojams and Jambalayah.  For more information and videos on Stomp n Shake cheerleading, click here.

Trigger warning: this post contains examples of negative comments used in attempts to rhetorically negate the evidence of Ragen’s physical abilities, and they may be upsetting or triggering for some readers.

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Society hides people like me – fat, healthy people.  We don’t fit into the popular misconception that you can look at somebody and tell how healthy they are, we don’t make the diet industry any money, and we won’t just loathe ourselves like they want us to. I’ve found that when people are faced with a real live healthy fat person they often try to solve their cognitive dissonance. Sometimes they do this by just calling us liars, as in this comment from a total stranger on my blog:

5’4 and 280 pounds is not healthy and you’re just deluding yourself if you think it is. There is no way that you can work out the way you say you do and eat the way you say you do and still be that fat.  You are not healthy and you need to get real, stop gorging yourself and get to the gym.

Sometimes they use the VFHT (Vague Future Health Threat). This occurs when people try to convince me that it’s less likely that I’m fat and healthy and more likely that they are psychic and that my “fat will catch up with me someday.”  My fat’s already here.  What is there to catch up with me – my healthy eating?  My exercise?  My numbers, strength, stamina and flexibility in the top 5% of the country?  For the record I know plenty of old, healthy fat people, but even if I’m wrong I still feel that I’m making the right choice.

Finally, if you are a fat person who says you are healthy or physically active, you will frequently be asked to prove it.

After working for a year to obtain a level of flexibility that I didn’t even have as a (relatively thin) kid, I was thrilled to accomplish this heel stretch:

[Photo by Richard Sabel]

Among the supportive comments were a group of very prolific writers who make a total of 127 comments in three hours.  One comment that was fairly representative of the group stated,

You are a stupid bitch.  You are a liar to say that you are fat and healthy, there’s no such thing. Nobody cares how flexible you are (this move isn’t even that hard) or how well you dance because you’re still a fucking fattass.  I bet your ankle shattered 5 seconds after this was taken.  If I see you in the street I will slap you across your triple chins you dumb fat bitch.

Someone posted information about me on a listserve of people who, at first, were being reasonable and curious. I was e-mailed and challenged to state my numbers to prove beyond doubt that I am, in fact, healthy.  I posted my cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure etc., all in the exceptionally healthy range. But, a random stranger on the internet asked, what could I do physically?

So I posted pictures of my strength and flexibility:

They said that holding that same 284 pound body (the one that surely shattered my ankle) up in an arch and doing suspended pull ups isn’t that hard.  They said I must be flexible because I’m all fat and no muscle. They asked why I didn’t show something more athletic.

After several other attempts to counter their arguments, I posted a video of me dancing:

They got mean. They called me a whale, they called me a hippo, they said that it doesn’t matter because I’m still fat.

Several things about this incident stand out to me. First, many of the people who posted weren’t satisfied with disagreeing with my Health at Every Size lifestyle or calling me a liar, but actually felt the need to diminish my accomplishments. I can only assume that they were trying to avoid some sort of cognitive dissonance. In addition, the comments reflect an intense desire to convince me that no amount of accomplishment is enough if I am fat — as if being fat is such an utter failure that it eclipses anything else that I could possibly accomplish. Their core belief is that accomplishments only count if you’re thin, so since I’m fat no amount of proving it will ever be enough.

At first I was shocked by these comments. But I wonder if they are simply the end result of the constant marketing messages that the diet industry makes billions of dollars imbedding into our collective consciousness: The idea that anyone who chooses to focus on healthy habits rather than having a smaller body must be stupid and should be ridiculed. The idea that no accomplishments matter until you are thin because, if you are fat, you aren’t worthy of feeling happy or successful. (Remember Jennifer Hudson’s commercial where she said “Before Weight Watchers, my world was can’t” even though before Weight Watchers she had won a Grammy for her first CD and an Oscar for her first film?) Finally, the image of trainers like Jillian Michaels physically, verbally, and emotionally abusing fat people and treating them as subhuman “for their own good” might even make these people feel like they are somehow good Samaritans rather than run-of-the-mill judgmental abusers.

In the end, I’m over it. Don’t like what I write? Don’t believe me? Fine. I’m not here for you. When I do something that is counter to someone’s stereotypes, I’m not asking for their approval — I’m doing them the courtesy of giving them the opportunity to challenge their preconceived notions. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. I believe that every person of every size deserves respect. After that it’s all about presenting options, letting people make their own choices, and respecting those choices just like I expect mine to be respected.

Ragen Chastain, of Dances with Fat is a corporate CEO, choreographer for and a principle dancer in Fat Bottom Cabaret, and a three-time National Champion partner dancer currently seeking her first World Professional title;  but all of that pales in comparison to her greatest accomplishment – learning to love her body.  She is a strong advocate for Health at Every Size, and she unwaveringly believes (and is living proof!) that health is not about body size and that every body deserves respect.

Ragen agreed to write a post about her own personal experience with an issue facing many fat people: the insistence of other people that anyone who says you can be fat and healthy is mistaken, deluded, or actively lying, and the hostility and aggression often aimed at fat people who challenge these social assumptions (including on previous posts on our blog). She has previously posted parts of this article here and here.

Lindy hopper Jerry Almonte sent along a clip of the first place-winning routine in a division at the European Swing Dance Championships.  Lindy hop is a partner dance invented by African American youth in Harlem dancing to swing music in the early 1930s.  It’s near and dear to my heart; I’ve been a lindy hopper for 13 years (minus that year with a broken leg).

Modern day lindy hop raises difficult questions.  In a post I wrote when the beloved Frankie Manning died, titled Race, Entertainment, and Historical Borrowing, I tried to capture the conundrum. I’m going to quote myself extensively, only because this is a tricky issue that deserves real discussion:

Though lindy hop was invented by African Americans, lindy hoppers today are primarily white.  These contemporary dancers look to old movie clips of famous black dancers as inspiration.  And this is where things get interesting:  The old clips feature profoundly talented black dancers, but the context in which they are dancing is important. Professional black musicians, choreographers, and dancers had to make the same concessions that other black entertainers at the time made. That is, they were required to capitulate to white producers and directors who presented black people to white audiences. These movies portrayed black people in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, happy-go-lucky, etc.

So what we see in the old clips that contemporary lindy hoppers idolize is not a pure manifestation of lindy hop, but a manifestation of the dance infused by racism. While lindy hoppers today look at those old clips with nothing short of reverance, they are mostly naive to the fact that the dancing they are emulating was a product made to confirm white people’s beliefs about black people.

So we have a set of (mostly) white dancers who (mostly) naively and (always) wholeheartedly emulate a set of black dancers whose performances, now 70 to 80 years old, were produced for mostly white audiences and adjusted according to the racial ethos of the time.  On the one hand, it’s neat that the dance is still alive; it’s wonderful to see it embodied, and with so much enthusiasm, so many years later.  And certainly no ill will can be fairly attributed to today’s dancers.  On the other hand, it’s troubling that the dance was appropriated then (for white audiences) and that it is that appropriation that lives on (for mostly white dancers).  Then again, without those dancers, there would likely be no revival at all.  And without those clips, however imperfect, the dance might have remained in obscurity, lost with the bodies of the original dancers.

It is this paradox that stirred Jerry to send along the clip of Dax Hock and Sarah Breck performing a routine that was an homage to a famous clip from the movie Day at the Races, featuring Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. Here’s the original clip from 1937:

And here’s Dax and Sarah’s routine (Dax, btw, is in a fat suit; an entirely different and equally troublesome issue):

To be as clear as possible, I do believe 100% that Dax and Sarah have no intention to mock and, as essentially professional lindy hoppers, I doubt very much that they’ve never considered the ideas I’ve explained above.

Dax and Sarah are not my target here and, besides, they’re just two people.  All conscious lindy hoppers struggle with these issues.  My target, and my own personal struggle, is the entire endeavor.

I leave this as an open question for discussion, and one that extends far beyond lindy hop to jazz, blues, rap, and  hip hop music; other forms of dance, like break dancing and pop and locking; and even the American obsession with spectating sports that are currently dominated by black athletes.  It also extends far past the relationship between blacks and whites, as Adrienne Keene well illustrates in her blog, Native Appropriations.

How do white people, especially when they’re more or less on their racial own, honor art forms invented by oppressed racial groups without “stealing” them from those that invented them, misrepresenting them, or honoring them in ways that reproduce racism?  You tell me… ’cause I’d like to know.

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For more, I’d be thrilled if you read my original post, inspired by the passing of Frankie Manning.

Also worth considering is this beautiful music video (Slow Club, Two Cousins) featuring lindy hoppers Ryan Francoise and Remy Kouakou Kouame performing vintage jazz movement. Is it different? What makes it so (other than production value and the race of the dancers)? Can you articulate it? Or is it tacit knowledge?

Inspired in part by The Spirit Moves?

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.