The Politics of Dancing [DEBATE, META, SYNTH, REDIRECT]

John H. Stevens, Jr. (jhs14@CORNELL.EDU)
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 08:12:04 -0500

OK, first trivia question: the subject line is actually a song title from
the '80s. Who performed it?

I ask because (a) I am obsessed with music and (b) because the chorus of
this song (while a tad corny) frames the meager contribution that I would
like to make and points towards a redirection I would like to suggest in
the debate.

The chorus goes (imagine pre-rave synthesizer beat in background):
---"The politics of dancing. . .
---the politics of [ummmmmm] feelin' good. . .
---the politics of movin'

What made me think of this was Brian's comment about parade and Ruby's line
about seeing American Indian dancers perform. We've talked a lot about the
subjective experience of these maneuvers and tried to qualify the
definition of the dance/drill pairing, but what about the message of these
performances?? No one has mentioned explicitly performance anthro (i.e.,
late Turner, Schechner [sic], etc.), nor have we talked about audience or
the narrative and poetics of these acts. Our attempts to understand dance
and drill from the inside have given us a nice understanding of why folks
dance and drill (and parade, and perform other bodily movements), but what
about the way that they inscribe space, time, *and* body with meaning, the
way that they tell a story or create a new world of experience for those
who observe (not just the anthros, who just say "and then they danced"
[thanks Lynn!]). I know that this stuff is important at powwows, both
during formal dance (i.e., fancydancing) and social round dances that
everyone (except the goofy tourists who take pictures; ahhh. . . I love the
gaze!!) participates in (often at the end of the powwow, but not always).
And of course, then there's stuff like the American Indian Dance Theatre
and last year's Plains to Pueblos tour, which is even more concerned with
identity and storytelling, with creating pleasure and awareness for others
as well as the self.

The why and who of dancing and drilling (and parading. . .) have been
addressed by Mike Salovesh, but that's only one example. There must be
others!! Who "speaks" in the dance as often as important as the dance
itself; how many of us would go to see Swan Lake if the lead dancer was
Yogi Berra??? Dancers and drillers are made by the dance as they make the
dance, and that is a part of the meaning of the act (c'mon, say it:

I guess what I'm suggesting is that, having talked about the doing, what
about the viewing?? How can we bring the two together? Obviously, we need

Any suggestions??

Best regards,

John H. Stevens, Jr.
Department of Anthropology
Cornell University

Student Area Coordinator, Amnesty International (Central NY)
Co-Chair, Urgent Action Coordinator, and Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator,
Cornell Student Chapter

snail: c/o Dept. Of Anthropology, 265 McGraw Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853
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Put your stormy soul to rest
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The stars themselves smile
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