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?

“Taekwondo Shuffle”

There’s a wonderful video circulating Facebook and some mainstream media blogs (FOX and CBS) which shows an outdoor performance by a group of young Koreans showcasing their mastery of Taekwondo as well as their choreographic skills. No one seems to have information on who they are or what the purpose of the display was, so if anyone knows, comment here and fill us in!

It’s being referred to as the “Taekwondo Shuffle” because the footage begins with the music and basic step (a “shuffle”) from the music video of this summer’s big hit “Party Rock Anthem” by the group LMFAO. While doing the shuffle step (which to my eyes is a miniaturized running man), the performers go through some of the arm motions used in Taekwondo training sequences.

If by some chance you haven’t seen it, here’s the LMFAO video, featuring Quest Crew, winners of the third season of America’s Best Dance Crew. Check out their website and YouTube channel.

But actually the majority of the video displays a choreographed sequence of different members of the group breaking boards with different kicks, aerial moves, and spins. This is a demonstration of ‘speed breaking,’ where the ability demonstrated is that of speed and precision, in contrast to ‘power breaking,’ where the goal is breaking as thick an obstacle as possible. Read more about Taekwondo history and techniques here or at the World Taekwondo Federation website.

What I love about this performance is the variety of movement sources and performance, as well as the well coordinated use of space, levels, and all members of the group. Having no expertise on Taekwondo I can’t pass any judgment on their completion of the moves attempted, but it is visually arresting and wonderful (and interesting, and not without problems) to see the combination of social, participatory dance forms with martial arts techniques performed in a presentational manner.

It’s also interesting to think about this choreographic display of martial techniques and movement lexicon in relation to Tricking, the dance/acrobatic form that runs just tangential to B-boying, gymnastics, and martial arts, and borrows and lends to all of them. Below is the YakFilms footage of the Tricking/Trix battle at this year’s Onde 2 Choc in Paris. You’ll see influences from and variations on classic gymnastic’s tumbling routines, B-boying’s power moves, Capoeira‘s flips, spins, and kicks, and similar moves performed more in line with the aesthetics of Asian martial arts.

As you can see, the performances captured in the two videos have a lot in common. Of course the Battle setting is very different from a public group performance, but the movement vocabulary is nonetheless very similar. It’s interesting to think, what’s the difference in the finished product between the two integrations of martial arts vocabulary into dance syntax?