Tag Archives: YouTube

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.