dance

Many of you have probably by now seen this video of a group of young girls dancing to Beyonce’s Single Ladies on the World of Dance tour.  Huong L., Jeff S., and Dmitriy T.M. sent it in and asked us to comment on it.  First, the video… which is stunning:

I think I’ve watched this a half dozen times and I’m mesmerized.

But to the analysis…

After the Single Ladies video came out there was a rash of parents uploading videos of their kids dancing along to the video.  We featured a particularly impressive example of a preschool-aged girl dancing to the video and offered it as an example of how kids are active agents in their own socialization.  You might also apply this idea to this video, sent in by Heather B. (which I am not going to comment on because I can’t figure out the context).

Certainly children do make choices about what to mimick.  In a culture that highly sexualizes young girls, we shouldn’t be that surprised when they make choices that we find incongruent with (our beliefs about) childhood.  The World of Dance routine, however, is not simply an example of children being active in their own socialization and responding to the powerful messages of self-objectification aimed at girls of all ages.  In this case, many, many adults were instrumental in producing the product: their dance teacher(s), the choreographer, their parents, and the producers of the tour, to name the obvious.  These girls are performing a highly sexualized routine because many adults chose to sexualize them.

For more examples of the sexualization of young girls, see our posts on sexually suggestive teen brands, adultifying children of color, “trucker girl” baby booties, “future trophy wife” kids’ tee, House of Dereón’s girls’ collection, “is modesty making a comeback?“, more sexualized clothes and toys, sexist kids’ tees, a trifecta of sexualizing girls, a zebra-striped string bikini for infants, a nipple tassle t-shirt, even more icky kids’ t-shirts, “are you tighter than a 5th grader?” t-shirt, the totally gross “I’m tight like spandex” girls’ t-shirt, and a Halloween costume post.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

Orion submitted this gorgeous music video for the song, Tightrope, by Janelle Monae, featuring Big Boi. It’s a great example of how dancing doesn’t have to be sexualized or gendered by movement or attire. It’s just creative and interesting and mesmerizing!

On a completely different note: Any dance historians out there? To me this looks to be inspired by the adaptations of Charleston in Black America (Trankey Doo, Shim Sham, etc), like in this clip featuring Al Minns and Leon James (it’s filmed in 1961, but these dances emerged in the ’30s and ’40s):

I’d love to hear more about the evolution of this kind of movement.

UPDATE!  Thank you so much to our Reader, Anna, who is also a dance scholar and was able to give us some history in the comments thread:

Dance scholar here! I really enjoyed the dancing in the Janelle video. It should be read as an homage to rhythm dancing of African-descent from the 1920s through new Jack Swing (kidding, not sure there is a cut off date). The historical footage is in fact cited in Janelle’s video and as one poster pointed out, the dancing in her video is stylized as if it were being done on a tight rope… In my opinion (cause other scholars might see different things based on their training) her dance has some Camel Walkin’ mixed in with some dancehall hip articulation and a big dose of James brown, to be sure.

As for the claim that you cannot get from Al Minns and Leon James to 2010, that is shortsighted, very short! We get James and poppin and lockin and jazz itself from a peculiar mix of Bambara ethnic dances (modern-day Senegal, The Gambia, & Mali) and dance cultures of the people of the Kongo region (Angola, DRC, Congo among others) that intersected in New Orleans during the slaving period. You can also add in there “shipping music,” hybridized forms of music that emerged on slave ships with their transnational crews drawn from Europe, Africa, and the Mediterranean.

The hips and 6/8 syncopated shenanigans come to us from Kongo culture (but the Irish had some there, too). The Charleston, jitterbug and other high kicking dances come from the Senegal region and still reflected patterns from mandjiani in particular. Origins are always tricky, I try to avoid staking big claims based on them, but this conversation string was peculiar in that discussions of ethnic origin were not possible because race and gender were eliding the historical work done in Jenelle’s video. Yes I know the question was about gendered movement. And like a lot of the other folks, I am wondering while a male normative is held as neutral.

That said, from a dance perspective, the moves in Janelle’s video are without gender assignment, but there is an expectation that one’s gendered identity will be, must be expressed through the execution of the moves. That is the evolution of these forms which still have strong gender-based repertoire in Senegal. The Congo, people tend to do the same moves. The men MOVE their hips. It is de rigeur in pop as well as “traditional” dance music.

The last bit of the two guys dancing together was a comedy routine, a send up of a very famous dance riff from a couple in Harlem. I think that original “duet” appears in “Stormy Weather,” but I am not sure.

Thank you for putting up the two videos!

Thank YOU for your insight Anna!

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 one I put out there for debate.

I don’t get a chance to watch the many dance shows out there, but I’ve seen a bit and I have a question for those of you who’ve been watching them more carefully.

The video below is of Sébastien Soldevila and Mimi Bonnavaud dancing at the Cirque de Demain festival (thanks for the info, netrus).  In the dance, a woman is torn between rejecting a man and being powerfully drawn to him.  I’ve noticed that this theme crops up frequently in even just the little bit of dance programming I’ve watched. In this video, you get the idea in just the first few seconds, though you might want to watch the rest because it’s awesome. (Video title, btw, is not mine.)

I can see why choreographers return to this theme again and again. I think this is a common human experience (lord knows I’ve been there) and great fodder for art.

My question is: Is this theme gendered? That is, is it usually the woman who is desperately trying to escape the man and her attraction to him, and not vice versa?

I ask because, if it is, what we’re really seeing is not just a drama about a conflict between attraction and repulsion, we’re seeing a drama in which men are allowed to be deaf to women’s insistence that they want to be left alone, released. Really, deep down, this narrative tells us, she wants him. Therefore, it’s perfectly ok for him to ignore her “no.” If he just follows her for long enough, grabs her to make her look at him one more time, forces her up against his body enough, then she will relent.

From a different perspective, this is a man who is stalking and harassing her, but the narrative (which almost always ends in her giving in to him/her desire) suggests that this is perfectly reasonable, even passionate, loving, devoted behavior.

Do we sometimes (or ever) see women doing the stalking and harassing in these choreographies? Or is it usually the man?

Also in “no” doesn’t mean “no”: caveman courtship, it’s not “no” if she’s a zombie, you may say “no,” but your perfume says “yes,” and some pretty grotesque t-shirts.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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.

I found this list of rules posted by the Lansing, Michigan, Chief of Police in dance halls during the 1920s in Allan Brandt’s book No Magic Bullet: A Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880:

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I don’t know what a “gratusque” dance, from point 3, is–maybe “grotesque” spelled incorrectly?

Notice the association of jazz with sexual impropriety. And although I think most readers, like me, will read the list and laugh at the fact that people thought dancing was so problematic, keep in mind that there are still many people who do. In college a friend told me he had never been allowed to go to a dance of any sort because his parents were from an evangelical Christian group that thought dancing was evil and led to sexual promiscuity. He’d also never eaten a single piece of Halloween candy, which horrified me way more than never going to a dance. I apparently am a tool of evil because I insisted that he enjoy the pleasures of Halloween candy for the first time. Next thing you know, he was drinking and smoking pot, proving that candy is a gateway drug.

True story.

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

frankie-bioThis post is dedicated to Frankie Manning.  Frankie died this morning of complications related to pneumonia   He was one month shy of his 95th birthday.  I will really miss him.  Frankie is a lindy hop legend.  He choreographed the clip below and is the dancer in the overalls.

In the 1980s, there was a lindy hop revival.  Lindy hop is a partner dance invented by African American youth in Harlem dancing to swing music in the early 1930s. Named after the “hopping” of the Atlantic by Charles Lindbergh Jr., it became wildly popular in the 1930s and ‘40s, traveling from the East to the West Coast and from black to white youth. Since its resurgence, Lindy Hoppers have enjoyed a national scene with websites, workshops, competitions, and city-wide social events that draw national and international crowds.

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.  Let’s look at how this plays out:

This clip, from the movie Hellzapoppin’ (1941) is perhaps the most inspirational clip in the contemporary lindy hopper’s arsenal:

By the way, the dancers are in “service” outfits because of the way lindy hop scenes featuring black dancers were included in movies.   Typically they would have no relationship to the plot; they would occur out of nowhere and then disappear.  This was so that the movie studios could edit out the scene when the movie was going to be shown to those white audiences that were hostile to seeing any positive representation of black people at all.  If you want to see how the scene above emerged (black “help” suddenly discovering musical instruments and spontaneously congregating), you can watch the extended clip here.

The clip features a dance troop called Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers. You can see other famous dance segments in Boy! What A Girl! and Day At The Races.

The clip below, from the Ultimate Lindy Hop Showdown (2006), reveals how powerfully contemporary lindy hoppers have been influenced by clips like the ones above.  Watch for how the styling, moves, and trick reflects the clips above:

Another good example can be found here (but the angle, audio, and visual quality are not very good).

So we have a set of (mostly) white dancers who naively and 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.

As a white lindy hopper myself, for over ten years now, who desperately loves this dance, I find this to be a deep conundrum.

I don’t know what Frankie would have had to say about this critique.  But I do know that he loved lindy hop to his last days and he was grateful for the revival.  Here he is dancing with Dawn Hampton, another legend of lindy hop, at the age of 94:

I’lll miss you, Frankie. And I’ll keep on dancing, embodying, with ambivalence, all the great contradictions of the dance and the history of this country.

 

UPDATE: A couple commenters asked how, exactly, the dance was changed in order to appeal to white audiences.  This is actually really difficult to say, since few films of social dancing (black dancers dancing only for other black dancers) exist.  But we have some theories.  Evan, in the comments, had this suggestion:

For white audiences of the time, Jazz was Hot Black jungle music – Black people were sex crazy hedonists, and you can see it in the moves, the exaggerated body undulation. the speed. the sweat. the rhythmical drum.

It was like watching a tribe around a fire.

I’m with Evan.  I’d like to also add that, as a person with a trained eye for lindy hop, I see two things in those clips:

(1) I see incredibly effective technique. Unbelievable strength and precision. It’s fantastic.  (By the way, Frankie explained that, by the time they got to the take you see in the Hellzapoppin’ clip, they’d performed that routine more than 20 times in a row… they were amazing athletes.)

(2) But I also see, layered onto and facilitated by that technique, an effort to make the dance appear more out-of-control than it is. They are wild-ing the dance.

At least, that’s how it looks to me.

More than that, though.  As a dancer who has also been inspired by those clips, I know how to do that.  I know how to exaggerate the out-of-control look.  I won’t go into the technical details (I did, and then deleted!), but it’s do-able.  And it’s not that it’s not cool… adding the drama is fun and exciting to watch… but there’s a historical reason why lindy hop has that dimension and that is worth thinking about.

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.

Below is a video, found via The Daily Dish, of a girl, maybe four or five, mimicking the dancing in a music video featuring Beyonce.  She’s amazing!  Watch her go:

Wow!

Okay… now for sociological comments… these are all Gwen’s ideas, by the way, even though I’m posting it:

We often think of childhood socialization as a top-down process.  That is, we imagine that children are empty vessels and adults, mostly parents maybe, fill them up with whatever they please.  It may be true that the parents of this little girl actively, even aggressively, encouraged her to learn this dance.  But it’s also possible that this is driven by that little girl.  In which case, it may illustrate how kids can take an active part in their own socialization.  Clearly these parents don’t mind that their daughter is watching Beyonce, but she may be taking the initiative to emulate a public figure she’s seeing in the media (which surely includes messages about how to look, dress, etc.).  Even if these parents don’t like everything about that message (or other models she might follow), they can’t actually protect her from the ever-present messages about femininity that are all around her, which are going to affect how she thinks about herself, what she should be, etc.

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.