Conscriptions into Performance

I have a couple drafts lined up for future posts, but they were all too acrobatic in nature to complete (i.e. triple flips upon triple flips).  So those posts will come someday soon, and in their stead is a continuation of some of the concepts brought up in Dr. DeFrantz’s awesome lecture today.

To recap, here’s a list of all the dance styles/concepts he mentioned throughout the talk:

  • Quadrille
  • Cakewalk
  • Call dances
  • Juke
  • Footworking
  • Vogueing (esp. 3rd wave)
  • Krumping
  • Baroque Dance
  • Twerking
  • Whining and grinding
  • Heels Dancing
  • Bounce (music)
  • Jamaican Dance Hall

As someone who’s not exposed to a lot of dance studies or practices, I find it astounding that such a rich list could be compiled and discussed semi-spontaneously in such a short period of time. Dr. DeFrantz himself would probably be the first to say that this list is a fraction of the comprehensive list of dance styles. However, one may even argue that there can be no comprehensive, linear list. Because of the way dance emerges and evolves (sometimes in “waves” like with vogueing), there is no true way to quantify it sequentially. But it doesn’t hurt to try.  

I’ve always understood how dance is personal expression, and even group expression. But until college, I hadn’t been exposed to it enough to recognize dance as social expression. That changed when I took Dr. Blood’s African American Drama class, which did happen to focus on the cakewalk and minstrel shows. That class allowed me to see how dance can be both freeing and controlling at the same time. Minstrel shows are a really great example of how individuals can be conscripted into performance. While the minstrel performers were often employed voluntarily, they were assigned roles, looks, and movements that went against personal values and cultures. In some cases their jobs involved acting more than dancing because they were being asked to fill entertainment niches that reflected nothing of their own talent.  

This kind of brings me to the comment that I made during the lecture today. I wanted to clarify that I was not defending the sexualization of the girl in the video, nor girls in general. I was trying to say that it should be recognized that if the dancer in question was slightly older or slightly more developed, it may have been easier for us to comprehend how the sexualization of children occurs. We wouldn’t agree with it, but we would understand that sexualizing a fourteen-year-old is somehow more acceptable than sexualizing a nine-year-old, even though both are children. In many cases, girls mature a little faster than boys, and as a result they are conscripted into the performance of adulthood. When a girl dances, she may be conscripted into the (literal) performance of female sexuality. The man in the Rize documentary brought up a great point, but men need to be aware of the context of their words. Men that stand against the sexualization of prepubescent girls should also be condemning unwanted sexualization of adolescent girls and adult women.

To bring it back to dance in general, we did mention how there is a distinction within performances. The krumping clip was a young girl expressing herself in an active, in-the-moment, fashion. On the other hand, something like Toddlers in Tiaras represents a sexualization of prepubescent girls because it is solely adults driving the decisions of representation. The performances are structured, rehearsed, and intentional. Overall I guess what I’m trying to say is that any human who dances, no matter what age, gender, or level of voluntariness, is conscripted into both a literal and nonliteral performance. It is up to the producers and consumers of these dances to consciously remember the context of the dance, and determine the appropriateness and ethics of its reiteration.

Most of all, we need to recognize that we can talk endlessly about dance, but none of that talk matters unless we remember to embrace energy and actually dance. That’s what I loved about Dr. DeFrantz’s lecture: his own personal, physical movements accompanying his words. He recognizes that his distinguished scholarly experience has equal value to his ability be a dancer and a human.

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