PURPOSE: The Movement | Video Review

Hello! Welcome to this video-cast review of Justin Bieber’s visual album PURPOSE: The Movement which came out over the course of November 14.

The thirteen videos, one for each song on the album, were each directed by Parris Goebel, a young choreographer, teacher, and studio owner from New Zealand. Filmed and edited by Jose Omar Hernandez, a dancer/choreographer-turned videographer, these videos both challenge and index existing screendance (filmed dance) and popular dance conventions. Join me and fellow popular dance scholar Elena Benthaus (in from Melbourne on Skype) as we discuss how this album fits in to the history of dance on the popular screen, music video, and what’s happening on YouTube right now.

You can view the music video, and then play our response! I’ve included notes about what larger themes emerged so you can focus on what you’re interested in, and a link to a separate post with links to intertexts and references that came up in conversation. Let us know in the comments below what you think about the album, this review, or anything else. Thanks for tuning in to this experiment!

Getting Things Started

We talk about: who we are and how we’re approaching the review. Plus–what is a visual album? What do we think of this one? How does it compare with others?

Links to works we mentioned

“Mark My Words”

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: The dessert in music video, doing biographical readings, framing the project, the glorious Parris Goebel.

Links to works we mentioned

“I’ll Show You”

Dancers: Denzel Chisholm, Gusto Clarke, Ryan Davis, Noel Frias, Kendrick Martinez, Jose Ramos, CJ Salvador, Lance Savali, Tony Tzar, and Hollywood

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: space and place in YouTube dance video, interaction of choreography and lyrics, and why these videos might be so short.

Links to things we mentioned

“What Do You Mean”

Choreographer: Parris Goebel
Dancers: Bianca Ikinofo, Kaelani Edwards, Madison Golightly, Shyvon Campbell, Leilani De Marco, Kyra Aoake, Althea Strydom, Kaea Pearce, Maddison Barnett, Jess Toatoa, Ruth Pearce, Samyah Powell, Kirsten Dodgen, Corbyn Taulealea-Huch, Ling Zhang, Weijun Sun, Keanu Feleti, Todd Williamson, Joseph Metuakore, Elvis Lopeti, Justyce Petelo-Neho, Michael Metuakore, Fetu Taku, Esra Pula, and Andrew Cesan

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: The amazing dancers of Request Crew and the Royal Family, the history of Waacking, the resurgence of House music and dance in mainstream culture, and how “What Do You Mean” connects to “Sorry.”

Links to things we mentioned

“Sorry”

Choreographer: Parris Goebel

Dancers: The Ladies of ReQuest & The Royal Family Dance Crews from The Palace Dance Studio, NZ

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: What makes Goebel’s ‘PolySwag’ style so swag, the album’s homosocial spaces, the male gaze (or not), affective response to contagious performativity, and “Sorry” as a hybrid ‘music video’ and ‘YouTube dance video.’

Links to things we mentioned

“Love Yourself”

Choreographers and Dancers: Keone and Mari Madrid

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: Keone and Mariel Madrid’s work, site-specific choreography, narrative in music video, and the absence/displacement of Bieber’s body in the visual album.

Links to Things We Mentioned

“Company”

Choreographers: Parris Goebel and Lyle Beniga
Dancers: Lyle Beniga, Parris Goebel, Kaili Bright, Melany Centeno, Lilly Leithner, Diana Matos, Cat Rendic, Taja Riley, Tia Rivera, Tee Tee, Marquita Washington, Laure Courteller, Natalie, Paris Jackson, Miesha Moore, Tiara, Kelly, Selasi Dogbaeje, Conny Azua, and Rebbi Rosie

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: YAKfilms and freestyle street videos, is this the most ‘traditional’ music video in the album?, this album’s “YouTube-ness,” and young people thriving creatively on YouTube.

Links to Things We Mentioned

“No Pressure”

Choreographers: Parris Goebel and Ian Eastwood
Dancers: Ian Eastwood, Megan Batoon, and Melany Centeno, Big Sean

No Sense”

Dancers: Parris Goebel, Bianca Ikinofo, Shyvon Campbell, Leilani De Marco, Kyra Aoake, Althea Strydom, Kaea Pearce, Jess Toatoa, Kirsten Dodgen, Corbyn Taulealea-Huch, Althea Strydom, and Oriana Whaiapu

The Feeling”

Choreographers: Parris Goebel, Pierce Cady, Janelle Ginestra, Valentine Norton, James “BDash” Derrick, Keywane Pandy, Marquis Robinson, and Brandon “Beno” Anastascio
Appearance By: Halsey
Dancers: Pierce Cady, Janelle Ginestra, Valentine Norton, James “BDash” Derrick, Keywane Pandy, Marquis Robinson, and Brandon “Beno” Anastascio

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: The ubiquity of denim on denim, the aesthetic of camera mobility, krumping in film, connection between dance genre and narrative content.

Links to Things We Mentioned

Life is Worth Living”

Choreographers and Dancers: Emma Portner and Patrick Cook

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: What contemporary dance looks like right now, Emma Portner’s choreographic work, and the therapeutic and healing power of dance.

Links to Things We Mentioned

“Where Are Ü Now”

Choreographers: Parris Goebel, Nick Demoura and Lady Cultura
Appearances By: Diplo & Skrillex
Dancers: The Ruggeds -Tawfiq Amrani, Jessy Kemper, Roy Overdyle, Sjoerd Poldermans, Lady Cultura, Johnny Erasme, Johnathan Rabon, Yusuke Nakai, Mykell Wilson, Devan Smith, Mona Berntsen, Christina Chandler, and Elysandra Quinones

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: ‘Amateur’ video aesthetics and the highly mobile Internet camera, B-boying.

Links to Things We Mentioned

“Children”

Choreographers: Parris Goebel and Kyra Aoake
Dancers: Giverny Hing, Maddison Barnett, Ruth Pearce, Samyah Powell, Sarah Whyte, Houston Murray, Ellise Samuels, Ally Mayerhofler, Siyanna Yarr, Drew Sackfield, Cullen Neale, Isla Potini, Alexandra Page, Frannie Aquino, Azaria Ieriko, Biranna Dixon, Aria Henry, Teesha Siale, Courtney McKay, Isabella Thomas-Edwards, Taimania Pupuke,Sophie De Renzy, Anaya Wakelin, Faolan Okan, MJ Neethling, Jovi Ngo, Henk Tomkins, Irava Upu, Ben Rawnsley, Remy Sutton, Matthew Pule’anga, William Tuarae, Donnell Collins, Brookyln Collins, Ayla Ngaluafe, Quincy Ngaluafe, and Dasha Collins

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: Possible Hunger Games tie-in, young dancers on YouTube, and Bieber’s YouTube beginnings as motivation for this project’s cast and crew.

Links to Things We Mentioned

Purpose”

Choreographer: Parris Goebel

Our Thoughts:

We also talk about: “Commercial Lyrical Contemporary dance,” how this epilogue frames the visual album, the affect of hope, and the album’s take on sociality.

Links to Things We Mentioned

Wrapping Things Up

We talk about: Parris Goebel as a director, what it means to “make it” in the current entertainment landscape, and concluding thoughts on celebrity and affect in the age of social media.

Links to Things We Mentioned

Dance in the Mediated Francophone PostColony

This was originally posted on the blog of PoP Moves, a global organization for popular dance research.

This semester I am teaching a course called Dance in Global Contexts, a general education class for non-majors. In the first week I tried to introduce some of the larger ideas and skill sets that will carry out through the term. We talked particularly about colonialism, and about the impact of missionaries and cartesian dualism on the dance practices of colonized populations. One of the dance forms we discussed is Ori Tahiti, the complex of Tahitian dances that originated from pre-contact Tahiti and have since evolved. In addition to the history–it was banned by both English missionaries and the French colonial agents–one of the reasons it is a useful form for introducing this student population to larger concepts about dance is that while men and women perform together, there is some specific gendered movement vocabulary. For women, there is O’tea, circular movement of the pelvic girdle which Cook Island dancers teasingly call ‘the washing machine.’ For men, there is Pa’oti, a scissoring of bent knees from a first position where the knees come together and re-open.

In addition to a full performance, I wanted to show these movements separately, in order to emphasize their difference as well as to help build skill in movement observation. While the focus of this course is not expressly ‘the popular,’ I try to show a range of visual examples, and mostly what is available are modern performances on YouTube. While looking for videos, I found a tutorial for pa’oti, one of several posted by Tahiti Dance Online.

As I watched, I thought, ‘that song sounds so familiar!’ When the lyrics came in, although softly, I realized it was Belgian singer Stromae’s wildly popular song “Papaoutai.” Stromae, born Paul Van Haver to a Belgian mother and Rwandan father, is a successful dance music artist, well known for integrating diverse sonic influences like American and global hip-hop, Congolese rumba, and Cuban son, as well as for his often challenging lyrics and imagery.* “Papaoutai,” from Stromae’s second album released in summer of 2013 gained global popularity, appearing in the top ten of most European popular music charts, and at number 1 in France and Belgium.

The music video, which echoes the song’s question “Papa, where are you?” features parent-child pairs dancing happily together while Stromae appears as an immobile mannequin to his fictional son. A range of dance forms are presented: Krumper Tight Eyez is the father in a krumping duo, there is a flexing father and son, and two contemporary pairs–two women and another father-son duo. Stromae’s son turfs to get his father’s attention, itself a hybrid form. Together, they freestyle, echoing and re-imaginging the movements of the content pairs he watched. This includes the opening and closing of the legs also seen in Azonto and other afro-diasporic forms.

When I showed the pa’oti video in class, I asked, “does anyone recognize the song?” Only two of fifty students raised their hand. As is so often the case, the United States was largely out of the loop of Stromae’s global popularity. Once they and I had explained the song and who Stromae is, I asked “knowing that, why do you think this song appears in this video?” And a few students were able to work out the connection between the Belgian-Rwandan artist and song and Tahiti’s colonial past. In addition to the popularity and pervasiveness of Stromae’s song in the year the tutorial was made, I can’t help but think there is a little bit of a bilingual wordplay going on, given the sonic similarities between pa’oti and papaoutai.

While the predominate reading of “Papaoutai” is biographical–Van Haver’s father was largely absent while alive, and was a casualty of the Rwandan civil war–I think there is a reading here of the now absent but always present colonial power, father(s) with many children, whose language is left, whose mark on movement is left, a father who played favorites and left fratricide in his wake. And yet through what is on one hand the neocolonialism of global media infrastructure, and on the other the agentive re-mixing and recirculation of meaningful texts, the far flung ‘brothers’ come together on YouTube.

The official music video for “Papaoutai” has been viewed almost 300 million times on YouTube. While YouTube statistics no longer show the geographic distribution of viewers, we can imagine France, Belgium, and their (post)colonies, all in the dark green of dense viewership, their citizens singing and dancing along.

*His song “Carmen,” and the video for it, is a striking, self-reflexive critique of fame in the Internet age.

** A parody of the song criticizing Algerian president Bouteflika circulated in 2014

Presumptuous(?) Prospectus(!)

I’m turning in my dissertation prospectus (a lengthy and specific proposal that demonstrates you are indeed prepared to go off and research/write) later tonight. One of the things you have to do is state what the intervention(s) you think your work makes in your field–in other words, Why Is This Important?

While I’ve tried to answered this elsewhere, I started from scratch this afternoon with pencil and paper and came up with a new list/set of articulations. Need to type them up anyway so I thought I’d do it here. Titled Presumptuous(?) Prospectus(!) because it feels preposterous to claim my own importance in the field/in the world, but also really exciting to position myself. This is a long road, happy for any thoughts, comments, recommendations, congratulations or criticisms.

My Contributions

Performance Analysis of (global) Popular Dance Practices
  • I want to help describe, catalog, and record the range of popular dance practices happening globally and practiced in the US, hopefully in a manner that eschews prescriptivism, essentialism, and the colonial history of projects of categorization. Instead, I view description and attribution as a principled act in a society that holds on to Enlightenment values which position the mind as separate from the body, in a political environment that polices bodies and their movement at many levels, and an economy which devalues the laboring body. In continuing the important work of Popular Dance and music scholars who have brought popular practices in to the discipline of Dance Studies and related disciplines, I want to introduce details, concepts, and analyses that are useful for treating these practices and their practitioners with the care given to canonical forms and figures, and which can be used for an expanded geographic and historical field of study.
Popular Dance on/with Social Media
  • While many scholars within Dance Studies are working on the Popular Screen in general, there is a significant hole in the literature looking at dance on YouTube. Essential work has been done by Dr. Harmony Bench [my advisor] and a few others, which I would like to build up/on. I hope to bring Internet and digital culture scholarship and cultural studies analyses together with the work being done with dance on the popular screen in order to talk about the particularities of popular dance on and with YouTube.
Economic Analysis and the Exigencies of the Popular
  • I want to utilize discussions of cultural infrastructure historically in dance and other popular forms (record companies, film studios, television networks, radio stations, etc.) to articulate the ways economics and media influence current cultural production and the contestation of agency on YouTube and social media broadly. This is especially important given the historical marginalization of communities of origin and the ongoing limited compensation for dancing bodies across time, genre, and identity.
Processual Genre and the Discursive Generation and Policing of Practice
  • To engage with New Genre Theory (my nomenclature) in its various disciplines and versions to think about the coherence of popular dance practices as processual, discursive, recursive, economic, political, and communal. In particular I argue that genre theory provides a useful framework for discussing the processes of innovation, transmission, and learning and the attending shifts in meanings and uses as popular forms are practiced across bodies, communities, and medias.
Critical Digital Ethnography
  • Following the turn to the ethnographic in scholarship on performance, I will continue to work to bring practitioner logic, knowledge, and concerns into scholarship by attending with a critical eye to the circulation of discourse on authenticity, origin, genre, pedagogy, use of media, and competency in communities of origin and broader communities of practice.

Doing Style: Genre and the Ethnography of Performance

Howdy!

I’m preparing for my candidacy exams, which in my department means I’m reading four separate lists of about 25 books each. Each one is overseen by a different committee member, and are organized thematically by large bodies of literature I think are foundational to my work. Or, as my committee chair put it, ‘if you say, I study _____, what are the things people will expect you to have read?’ Since my research is interdisciplinary (and possibly convoluted), a few of my lists actually encompass more than one main field or area.

I just turned in an annotated version of one of my lists, titled “Doing Style: Genre and the Ethnography of Performance.” This list was designed around three major components, and influenced by folklore studies and my focus on the Popular: genre theory, ethnography of performance, and performance studies, and then somewhere along the way subcultures snuck in there. I’ve divided them for you below roughly by those four themes. My comments are brief and geared towards how these texts interface with my larger project, but I hope they are of interest to you!

Genre

Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute, 1999. Gives overview of genre theory from Aristotle and Horace to the present moment. Offers critiques and assertions, specifically about film. Genres are historical, processual, and subject to redefinition. They are defined primarily by discourse and use, by production, criticism, reception, and circulation. Focuses on experiential concerns as lacking from genre studies.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “The Problem of Speech Genres.” Speech Genres, and Other Late Essays. Ed. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986. 60-102. In defining genre and what to attend to, particularly focuses on the audience, context, and the relation of the individual to the whole. His taxonomy includes style, and primary/simple genres in addition to their secondary/complex genres. Most interested in the level of the utterance, that is a given performance, and its dialogic relationship to what shaped its occurance.

Ben-Amos, Dan, Ed. Folklore Genres. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. [selections] Ben-Amos and Roger Abrahams’s contributions were very useful towards comparative genre analysis. Introduces idea of the ‘structure of context’ and a taxonomy of genre types defined on the axes of presentational/participatory, stylization, and resolution. Particularly useful for me was Abrahams’s focus not on exclusive categories to label genres, but rather on relative distinctions.

Briggs, Charles and Richard Bauman. “Genre, Intertextuality, and Social Power.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2(1992): 131-172. Really useful for theorizing categorization as well as providing a model to look at categories at work in the world. Asserts that genre is always instantiated, never a platonic or static idea. Everything has a pripr model or is in conversation with it, whether trying to replicate or escape (and so intertextuality). Judgments on cultural products are a way to accrue social power.

Bordieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984. Asserts that taste is informed by literacy, which is usually cultivated through exposure, almost always dictated by class. Distinctions made by people index their social classifications, and may be read as identifying characteristics. In turn certain forms or items are defined through the people who like them, such that engagement with those could be subversive or aspirational.

Derrida, Jaques. “The Law of Genre.” Critical Inquiry. 7.1(1980): 55-81. Very abstract, not focused on examples or any specific mode of production but on how categories and categorization works broadly. Introduces a typology in descending order of mode, followed by genre, followed by type. Perhaps most usefully, asserts that all categorization is done with an eye towards policing, but in defining in opposition, the Other always gets included.

Frow, John. Genre. New York: Routledge, 2006. Fantastically useful. Catalogues theories of genre as developed in literary theory, film studies, and music. Has the taxonomy mode, genre, sub-genre. Attends to structural and situational/social aspects of genre and genre classification, stating that classification is a way to make meaning, both for producers and for consumers. Also emphasizes discursive nature of genre.

Harris, Trudier. “Genre.” The Journal of American Folklore 108.430 (1995): 509-527 Very useful. Includes the history of the use of genre in folklore studies and a summary of what most contemporary folklorists are concerned with in their recent investigations. These include issues of intertexuality, contexts of performance and circulation, who perpetuates categories, and who is policing their boundaries. Mostly focused on oral and literary forms, but applicable.

Holt, Fabian. Genre in Popular Music. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2007. Really useful and insightful. Focuses most directly on what genre does in the production, dissemination, and consumption of popular music. Conventions of labeling, making, and experiencing music are cultural and aggregative, and are just as much at play in those practices as any formal attributes of the given (piece of music). Accounts for communities of consumption.

Moore, Allan F. “Categorical Conventions in Music: Style and Genre.” Music and Letters 82.3 (2001): 432-442. Very useful. Summarizes literature on style and genre, with particular attention to differences between musicologists (who prefer ‘style’) and popular music writers, who align with media and cultural studies scholars and prefer ‘genre’. Contextualizes larger debate and makes an argument for acomplex model of categorization that uses both terms distinctly. Introduces the axis of autonomy versus the social, and reception vs production-based models.

Performance Studies

Bauman, Richard, Ed. Verbal Art as Performance. Long Grove, IL: Waveland, 1977. As a space-clearing/field-defining gesture, Bauman marks the performance turn in folklore as a way to broaden the scope of inquiry. Performance analysis should attend to” context, keying, aesthetics, rules, innovation, and its role in social structure. In second part Gossen’s “Chamula Genres” asserts the necessity of engaging with native taxonomies to understand fully. 

O’Shea, Janet. At Home in the World: Bharatanatyam on the Global Stage. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP 2007. A critical historiography with close-choreographic analysis. Successfully writes about a form about which a great deal is written by focusing on paradigms like tradition vs. innovation and authorship vs. cultural legacy to interrogate received knowledge and naturalized ideals of nation, gender, and the classical. Theorizes dancing as method to locally engage the changing world.

Rivera-Servera, Ramón. Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics. Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 2012. Amazing integration of thick description in a broad historical and political contextualization. Useful for ideas about global intersectional identity, which is emergent and lived in local contexts, about improvisation theorized broadly as a social skill to survive disciplinary power and challenge it. Discusses the individual positioned in cultural trends and social contingencies.

Taylor, Diana. The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Contextualizes Performance Studies as a discipline and highlights major concerns, particularly within circulation in the Americas. Useful for theorizing the development and dissemination of material and its relation to power through her ideas on the archive and the repertoire, and for her in depth discussion of theories of mixing such as mestizaje, hybridity, and transculturation.

Thomas, Helen. The Body, Dance, and Cultural Theory. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. Amazing book. Begins with overview of the body as it’s been discussed (or not) in philosophy, sociology, and anthropology from the Greeks to the present day, moving towards the current view of a culturally determined body. Useful review of subculture literature; case study on rave culture critiques literature’s lack of attention to dance. Looks at training and media components.

Turner, Victor “The Anthropology of Performance.” The Anthropology of Performance. New York: PAJ Publications, 1986. 72-98. Introduces the model of social drama as the unit from which genres of cultural performance derive. Asserts that the tensions displayed and resolved in the stages of social drama influence the form and function of cultural genres. While this model seems removed from the context of many popular genres, it’s an interesting idea to think with once I have ethnographic data.

Schechner, Richard. “Collective Reflexivity: Restoration of Behavior”Between Theatre and Anthropology. Philadelphia: U Pennsylvania P, 1985. 39-81. Brings together different specific examples of performance and rehearsal to make a larger point about the temporality and reality of performance, always part of a chain of other performances and mediated contexts. Pays attention to how relations of power are consolidated and reiterated even in context of ‘play’—this is a way that the frame of ritual continues to be useful.

(Performance) Ethnography

Method/Theory

Buckland, Theresa. Dance in the Field: Issues in Dance Ethnography. New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. An anthology of experiences and best practices for fieldwork. Overarching themes included the need to be aware of power and divisions, between researcher and subjects, within the field of study, and in the literature you’re entering; knowing the etiquette for participation and that you will certainly become involved, and the importance of fieldnotes for success of the final writing.

Csordas, Thomas. “Somatic Modes of Attention.” Cultural Anthropology 8.2 (1993): 135-156Provides a methodology attending to bodily experience. Asserts that somatic modes of attention are different from other knowledges, and are important. Makes a case for the researcher to embody the practice first, then ask informants about their experiences. Also useful discussion of kinesthetic pleasure interfacing with outside influences, or in other words, taste and preference.

Conquergood, Dwight. Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis. Ed. E. Patrick Johnson. Ann Arbor: U Michigan P, 2013. Anthology of his articles and speeches, ranging from methodological and theoretical positionings to in depth ethnography. Really important for how to position yourself to your field and your subjects, with ‘deep hanging out’ and ‘dialogical performance.’ His writing has a personal and passionate voice that’s still very clear and attentive to larger circulations of discourse and power.

Kozinets, Robert. Netnography: Doing Ethnographic Research OnlineLos Angeles: SAGE, 2009. Very dry, but interesting. A thorough and self-aware accounting of the contexts and tools newly available for research, and the potential difficulties with them. Particularly useful in its careful discussion of etiquette for engaging in or with an already existing online community, including when to engage, how knowledgeable you need to be, and how to properly acknowledge help.

Madison, D. Soyini. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012. Extremely useful. While the title focuses on ethnography, the book is a guide to everything you need to know about working in the humanities, from summarizing Western philosophic history and the major theorizations used today to step-by-step guide for planning, carrying out, and writing up your research. Asks you to consider how your project is one of social justice.

Ortner, Sherry. “Theory in Anthropology Since the Sixties.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26 (1984):126-66. Offers a comprehensive summary of the field of Anthropology from 1960 to 1984, charting influences of different schools of thought, their concerns, and their impact on the larger field. Not specifically useful for my project except to contextualize it within theories and methods of cultural anthropology, but would be great to assign to an intro to anthro/ethno/folklore course.

Sklar, Deidre. “On Dance Ethnography.” Dance Research Journal 23.1 (1990): 6-10. AND “Reprise: On Dance Ethnography: Toward Cross-Cultural Conversation.” Dance Research Journal 32.1 (2000): 70-77. In the original, and in her response to herself, Sklar positions Dance Ethnography in terms of the experiential and kinaesthetic, asserting the necessity of physical engagement with the dance forms or movement practice being studied. She uses a particular example of an instance in her fieldwork where until she was physically involved, she did not understand the event.

Whitehead, Neil, and Michael Wesch. Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subject, and the End of Anthropology. Boulder: UP Colorado, 2012. Interesting but not foundational. Theorizes and gives examples of the variously (un)human subjects being studied right now, including a wide array of representations of self on/through the Internet, as well as the (dis)abled, poor, and disenfranchised, and how including these pushes the boundaries of ethnography and anthropology.

Ethnographies

Browning, Barbara. Samba: Resistance in Motion. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Print. Takes a geographic focus to investigate Brazilian movement practices of Capoeira, Samba, and Candomblé through auto-ethnography and participant observation. Main themes include nationalism, how training in each form is undertaken, and the identities that form through practice. At times selective in representation of each form, but interesting to see together.

Bock, Sheila and Katherine Borland. “Exotic Identities: Dance, Difference, and Self-fashioning.” Journal of Folklore Research 48.1(2011): 1-36. Successfully combines the literature from folklore and from dance studies, an ethnographic approach and a larger view. Really wonderful model for a both/and approach to experience and representation. How do we account for lived experience as well as the impact that experience has on the lives of others? Includes movement description from practitioners and the authors.

García, CindySalsa Crossings: Dancing Latinidad in Los Angeles. Durham: Duke UP, 2013. A close reading of the LA salsa scene as it interfaces with the geographic, racial, and cultural politics of Southern California and its heterogeneous population. Useful for challenging notions of salsa a ‘coherent’ genre and detailing the variety of values, contexts, and practices at play. Strong authorial voice, small group of informants but wonderful movement description.

Novack, Cynthia. Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. Madison, WI: U Wisconsin P, 1980. An amazing model for a monograph on a single form, but strengths are extrapolatable, including: The combination of contextualization with close movement description, the focus on how structure, function, and meaning work together and are perceived from within and without the community of practice. Also chronicles directionality of influence in a global(ized) form.

Roberts, John W. From Hucklebuck to Hip-Hop: Social Dance in the African-American Community in Philadelphia. Diane, 1995. Print. Oral history based account of social dance practices in Philadelphia 1950s-1990s. Very interesting but is told almost entirely in quotations, with no commentary or analysis from an author, so it lacks movement description and has unclear temporality and causality. Does reveal interesting trends in venue, etiquette, dance forms preferred, and gender and race relations.

Sub/Club Cultures

Hebdige, Dick. Subculture: The Meaning of Style. London, Routledge, 1979. Predominately focuses on outward expressions of identification with white male subcultures as they are in conversation with black subcultures and in opposition to the culture of the previous generation. Discussion is overarching and doesn’t focus deeply on any individual expression or form. Prompts question for me about women and subcultures: not there, or just not in the record?

Pini, Maria. Club Cultures and Female Subjectivity: The Move from Home to House. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. Tries to account for the lived experiences of women who find raving ‘liberating’ in Britain in the 1990s, and to rectify a lacuna in clubbing literature, which tends to focus on men. Critique of male-centered youth culture studies is useful and thought-provoking for how I’ll carry out my own work. Incomplete given no movement description but talking about a dance practice, overall kind of shallow.

Thornton, Sarah. Club Cultures: Music, Media and Subcultural Capital. Hanover, NH: UP of New Englland, 1996. Continues the practice Pini critiques and focuses on straight white male participants in club culture. However, offers important contributions in the discussion of liveness and authenticity as they circulated historically and currently. Also very interested in the ways in which media circulation and discourse help to formulate insider/outsider divides in subcultural identification.

 

Link

My (chapter’s) Book is Available for Pre-Order on Amazon! Click here!

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I’m so excited to see a cover and an official release date (although that price, zowey!) for The Oxford Handbook of Dance on The Popular Screen.  My chapter, “Communities of Practice: Active and Affective Viewing of Early Social Dance on the Popular Screen” about the role screen technology (newsreels, film, and TV) played in the development and dissemination of Ragtime dances, the Charleston and the Twist is in the first, historical section of the book.

Are you a librarian? A book buyer? An interested citizen with connections to people like that? Pre-Order now! The book is geared towards college readership but this is the absolute cutting edge scholarship coming out of Dance Studies and useful for any Media Studies or Screen Studies researcher or teacher.

Hurrah!

Quick Thoughts Puma’s “Dance Dictionary”

I just heard about it today, but you may have seen this new Puma project, “Dance Dictionary” passing around on social media, the platform it’s specifically developed for since late April, when it debuted. At it’s most basic, the “Dance Dictionary” converts customizable phrases into short dances you can share broadly. (Its purpose is to promote their new perfumes, but they’re nowhere in sight).

You can play with the Dictionary here (click “Get Started”>”all sentences” then pick a sentence frame you like and you can change the two underlined words, mad-lib style, by clicking them). Here’s the “Trailer” for the project:

I really love and appreciate this PUMA project–It can and does serve as an archive, oral history, ethnography, a movement analysis tool, and a well-filmed showcase of some of the most talented and direction-changing dancers of the current moment, who are being allowed to operate within their individual styles. Mashable has a nice article here about its positive components.

…and I simultaneously HATE IT. (That’s not a nuanced scholarly assessment, but it’s how I feel.) I hate it for its insistence on one-to-one word and dance correspondence (on mimicry and playacting  rather than the mimesis or suggestion native to the showcased forms), for its glossing of existing moves/combinations of moves with these new silly ‘dictionary entries,’ and, as always, for not crediting the fucking dancers. Some of the dancers’ names and the choreographer are available in press if you poke around, but there are 25 dancers and no identification of them on the project site itself. (Not to mention no other production credits.)

Few random thoughts/things I’d like to consider further myself (and a possible future paper?!)

  • The specific syntax (how things fit together) of the “language” they’re creating here, and how that differs from the syntaxes of each of the respective styles (B-boying moves go together differently than Popping, is different than how a Dancehall freestyle would be formed)–and how this relates to the algorithm being used (which has its own syntax).
  • Would love to hear more about how dancers were thinking about the non-verb and noun lexical items; there are several prepositions and conjunctions in the mix here.
  • The moves of Dancehall dancer, Dionne Rennée (in the green pants) is used for many of the sex-related ‘words’ like Milkshake and others.

More thoughts to come. In the meantime, what do you think?

Kuduro Conference!

Wanted to notify my readers interested in Kuduro or global popular dance in general of an exciting conference coming up that will be the first looking at the development of Kuduro music, dance, and broader cultural implications and connections. The conference will be held May 23-26 in Luanda, Angola.

The theme is “KUDURO, PATRIMÓNIO ANGOLANO PARA A  ÁFRICA E O MUNDO: Conhecer para valorizar” –‘Kuduro, an Angolan Heritage for Africa and  the World: Knowing in order to value’*

Read more and see the Call for Papers at their blog: http://www.conferenciakuduro.blogspot.com/ (in Portuguese)

For those of you who don’t know very much about Kuduro, I encourage you to look at my Encyclopedia of Kuduro and watch some of the videos linked in the entries there. Because it is a dance and music form developed in the poorest areas of a third world country, it’s exciting to see a conference organized around it, and hopefully this will just be the first of many for developing forms in developing nations. I don’t think I’ll be able to go, mostly for logistical and safety reasons, but I hope it gets a good turn out. If anyone ends up going or hearing more about it, let me know!

 

*sorry for my inelegant translations, my Portuguese is not very nuanced

 

Same Question Different Artist

Today I heard a story on All Thing’s Considered about the controversy surrounding Bob Dylan’s new art show, which brought up many of the same issues of recognition, acknowledgment, purchasing rights, and so on and so forth. NPR blogger Alva Noë made the direct comparison between Beyoncé and Dylan in the post I referred to in my earlier post (read Noë’s post here).

Do you think different media can/should handle borrowing and reproduction in different ways?

What Does Plagiarism *Feel* Like? More on the “Countdown” Conversation

Over the last few days I have continued to mull over the issues raised by the recent release of “Countdown.” Since my last post, the topic has spread like wild fire and is being mentioned on a wide variety of blogs and news sites. The coverage is often very accusatory and/or a very surface level coverage of events. I apologize in advance for the length of this post!

Introduction and Framing

In this post I would like to revisit the conversation and explore it from a more phenomenological, subjective point of view, out of which we might derive a more nuanced rubric and set of definitions for discussing instances of borrowing that span a spectrum of socially-acceptable behavior. Issues of legality and the rights and responsibilities of artists in the eyes of the law are beyond my area of expertise; I’m thinking here more about how it feels to watch a piece like this, and how our intuitions might help determine useful parameters which might at some point lead to legislation.

For insight on the current legal bounds of copyright law as it pertains to choreography, I refer you to an excellent analysis by my friend and colleague Merlyne Jean-Louis on the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Blog of the New York State Bar Association. Please read “Dancing Around the Issue of Copyright of Choreographic Works,” which explores a hypothetical law suit that could be brought by Les Twins against the group D*Day, the analysis of which is highly applicable to our topic of conversation. [UPDATE: read her post on “Countdown” titled “If You Sue Me…You’re Out of Your Mind” also on EASLB.]

As I just said, and in contrast to the legal analysis offered above, I’m going to proceed in this post to discuss ‘feelings’ and ‘intuitions’–I realize that my reactions to those videos I am about to discuss may be highly idiosyncratic. However, for argument’s sake I will discuss my own experience of watching them, as it is the only experience I can attest to. I apologize for using simplistic language at times.

I will be focusing on four examples other than Countdown: “Dance of the Little Swans” from Swan Lake, Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock,” and two earlier Beyoncé videos–“Get Me Bodied” and Single Ladies.” Following that, I will try to extrapolate some of the variables in these instances of borrowing and quotation that might effect our intuitions and judgments about them.

The Dance of the Little Swans from Swan Lake.

This pas de quatre is defined by its interlinked arms, precision of the head, and intricate petit allegro footwork. It is quite possibly one of the most frequently referenced and oft-quoted sections of choreography, and appears in a wide range of dance compositions, often in a satirical manner. Here it is as performed by the Bolshoi Ballet in 1989:

Now, catch a “quotation” or “reference” to this pas de quatre in the ‘Flipper Ballet’ of “Lay All Your Love on Me” in Mamma Mia! Watch for it around 0:12-0:18

When I first saw Mamma Mia!  I noticed this reference and I loved it–I thought-wow, that’s such a clever use of a classical piece; invert it so that it is four men, now clumsy water-creatures with flexed flippers in lieu of the four graceful swans with meticulously pointed toes. This quotation seems to work for the piece because it satirizes the form of ballet and yet admits the choreographer’s/choreography’s indebtedness to the form.

Yet it’s a direct quotation without any verbal or print citation of Marius Petipa– so why does it feel totally fine?

Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”

One of the music videos that’s being brought into the conversation about “Countdown” on blog and YouTube comments is “Pretty Girl Rock.” In the video Hilson takes on the costume, persona, and movement qualities of important historical Black women performers. This seems to be a very different case from “Countdown” for several reasons, not least of which was transparency, as seen in the description of the video on Hilson’s Vevo channel:

“Follow Keri Hilson through the decades in the video for her single “Pretty Girl Rock,” directed by Joseph Kahn. Keri transforms herself into women who have paved the way for black female artists, including Josephine Baker, the first world-famous African-American entertainer; singer Dorothy Dandridge; disco queens Diana Ross and Donna Summers; dance music legend Janet Jackson; and R&B trio TLC.”

Keri Hilson’s “Pretty Girl Rock”

In addition to the issue of transparency, there seems to be a difference between performing movement in the style of a person or even an era, and performing the movement of a person or another performance. I also have the intuition that the progression over time and the regularity of the changes between eras/personas has to do with understanding the authorial intent here as homage. It’s possible that one of the reasons the de Keersmaeker quotes in “Countdown” do not read as ‘homage’ (as some are saying), is that despite the presence of other references and inspirations, de Keersmaeker’s work makes up between 1/2 and 2/3 of the duration of “Countdown,” in one form or another.

Beyoncé: “Get Me Bodied” and “Single Ladies”

The comparison to “Single Ladies” is inevitable, but complex. For those who don’t know, the controversy surrounding “Single Ladies” regarded the use of choreography from at least two if not more dance numbers choreographed by Bob Fosse; “Mexican Breakfast” (Debut Ed Sullivan Show 1969) and “There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This” from the film version of Sweet Charity (1969). I calculate that about 65 seconds of the three minutes and nineteen seconds of “Single Ladies” is not just inspired but taken verbatim from these two pieces. [I will post a boiled-down paper I wrote on this issue at a later date].

Let’s back up a second. Even when I was only  grappling with my feelings about “Single Ladies,” I was struck by the fact that the Bob Fosse references in Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” never bothered me for an instant. Why is it different? Watch it, and “The Rich Man’s Frug”–also from Sweet Charity, below:

So, as you can see “Get Me Bodied” uses the setting, costuming, mood, and much of the choreography (especially the use of space/traveling through space) of Fosse’s piece. It is unmistakeably referencing/quoting/replicating “The Rich Man’s Frug.” If you have seen Fosse’s piece you would recognize the connection immediately. But, in fact, this seems to be the rhetorical power of the reference; what does a posh club look like in 2007? Where has “mod” taken us? What kind of popular and vernacular dances would a choreographer integrate now–just as Fosse did then–into a more abstract performance? How do men and women interact on the dance floor now, as opposed to 1969? And so on and so forth.

And, it works! Perhaps this should not enter the equation, but I’m going to put it in. The reference is entire, smooth, and evolved. Throughout the discourse on “Countdown” there have been cries that ‘artists always borrow’ ‘everything new is old’ and so on. These statements are true. But what needs to be remembered is that effective use of the old re-works the old. Effective, valid, useful art interrogates the old, adjusts it, juxtaposes it with the new or with future possibilities. It brings something additional to the conversation.

Which brings us to “Single Ladies.”

Unlike “Get Me Bodied” and “Countdown,” “Single Ladies” took the Fosse choreography out of context and out of order, and integrated it into a new product. By changing some of the dynamics of the original movement and by requiring interesting transitions between the moves inspired by J-Setting, choreographers Frank Gaston and Jaquel Knight brought new movement vocabulary to play into Fosse’s. By giving the whole piece the style and attitude of J-Setting, the choreographers nearly transformed the movement.

…nearly. On the one hand, while they did what I just suggested is important, they produced something new out of the old instead of just repeating it, in doing so they (and even more so Beyoncé) claimed the choreography as their own work. Even though the original movement is largely broken up, as I noted before about 1/3 of the time spent moving, the dancers are performing movement which previously had only been seen in Fosse choreography. That is to say–importantly–that they were not codified or common movements in the dance ether. So while taking the movement out of context enabled more creative work to take place perhaps, it also handily obscures the references. Which brings us to

Intention, Themes, and Variables

To wrap up, I’d like to highlight those points/variables which seem to have come out in my musings on the above examples. I have tried to reserve judgment throughout this post, but especially in this list I have tried to really pare it down to a checklist we might be able to use to gauge our feelings and eventually make legislation and agreements.

One last point before the list: some, especially Alva Noë in her blog on the controversy (read it here), assert that the intention to deceive must be present for a citationless borrowing to count as “plagiarism.” I understand her point and think it certainly must enter the conversation. However, discerning authorial intent has occupied an entire branch of study in the Academy, and, to put it simply, can rarely, in fact, be known. I can only assume that everything done for the purposes of marketing (which a music video is) is done with the end goal of promoting the artist, her image, and the opinion of her skills and creative ability. If this is the case, then the use of someone else’s work towards this end seems to be an act of deception. (More on this in the paper I mentioned earlier).

That aside, but with an eye on the difficulty of ascertaining artist’s intent, here is the list of questions or themes that we might be able to say are the ones we ask ourselves (possibly implicitly) when we have intuitions and feelings about a new work which uses old material. Perhaps in identifying them explicitly we can make more nuanced critiques of the use of “the old” in “the new,” how it makes us feel, how effective it is aesthetically, and, eventually, what the legality is.

  • (De)contextualization: does the movement appear in the same setting and order?
  • Length of quotation(s): what’s the proportion of old to new?
  • Public’s familiarity of quotation: is it an obscure reference or an obvious one? How can we account for varied audiences and knowledges?
  • Age of the original material: how long has it been around and is it therefore common knowledge?
  • Is the reference made obvious/displayed, or is it hidden/obscured?
  • Faithfulness in recreation: how well and how accurately is the quotation performed?
  • Self-awareness/reflexivity/does the artist create something new with the borrowed material?
  • Acknowledgement/Humility–>Logistical/Public relation element: are there visual credits on or under the video? Are any announcements made about influences, permissions, etc.? Have the relevant parties given permission and/or were they compensated?

Did I leave anything out? Do you have different feelings/reactions to my examples? Leave comments below and thanks for reading!

Rosas Danst Rosas and Beyoncé’s “Countdown”

Earlier today a very dance-literate fellow student wrote the following on my Facebook wall: “Have you seen the new Beyoncé video “Countdown”? She is showing her baby bump still moving and shaking it. The last 15 to 20 seconds is a direct quote from a Rosas Danst Rosas.”

This prompted me to do two things: try to find the newest Beyoncé video (not yet up on the BeyonceVEVO page), and watch Rosas Danst Rosas to try and see the connection. Let me tell you, once you’ve seen both, which I have brought together for you below, you cannot miss the connection!

Rosas Danst Rosas was choreographed originally as a dance for the concert stage in 1983, and is Anne Teresa de Keermaeker‘s most well known work. What I have posted below is a Dance for Camera version directed by Thierry de Mey, who was the composer of the original score. This film version was released in 1997 and features dancers from the second generation of de Keermaeker’s company, Rosas.

While the movement vocabulary of the stage and film version are almost identical, and some of this movement has been decontextualized and fit in to various parts of Countdown (see the shirt pushed off the shoulder at around 2:00 in “Countdown”), the full last minute uses not just the choreography but the cinematic aspects of de Mey’s film. The setting, use of the camera, light, and other aspects are recreated in Beyoncé’s video, directed by Adria Petty, who also directed Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams.”

There are certainly other influences and homages in “Countdown.” The colorful backgrounds and use of split screens index Richard Avedon’s famous portrait of the Beatles, Andy Warhol portraits, and the opening credits of the Brady Bunch. The all-black ensemble with cropped pants and exposed socks are being discussed in the blogosphere as references to Audrey Hepburn and Michael Jackson. [Both of these attributions, while accurate, work to obscure the choreographers who inspired the work and style of both of the above, as well as the choreographer of “Countdown”; Bob Fosse, Luigi, Jack Cole, and Jerome Robbins].

So it’s not to say that there aren’t other influences. And for some reason the brief referencing of other performances and people didn’t bother me very much. But to quote once more the friend who clued me in to the video and its connections to Rosas Danst Rosas, “Poor Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker doesn’t even get a choreography mention in the video. I applaud you Beyonce for using dancers in your video and they look awesome however, give credit where credit is due.”

This situation, like that of the use of verbatim Fosse choreography in “Single Ladies,” has me thinking about many questions, some of which are listed below:

Is ‘sampling’ part of Hip-Hop’s epistemology? Does the degree to which the replicated material is familiar to a wide audience matter? When is borrowing borrowing, and when is it appropriation? [Scholar Brenda Dixon Gottschild introduces the element of commodification into her definition of appropriation, which might be applicable here.] But isn’t replication a form of flattery? Does incorporating art known only to a small group into a media which will reach millions serve as an advance to that which is referenced?

What do you think?

Would all be right with the world if (1) the choreographer/dance director of the video were acknowledged? (2) the influence of de Keersmaeker was acknowledged (3) the dancers were credited?

To be continued! Please give me your thoughts below! [Update! I wrote a lot more about this idea in the abstract in this post: What Does Plagiarism *Feel* Like? More on the “Countdown” Conversation]