Dancin' Drillin' Theorizing <debate> <long>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 17 Feb 1996 12:38:39 +0900

Dear Colleagues,

What, then, does all this chat about formalization have to
do with dance vs. drill? The oppositions I identified earlier,

drill=military=hierarchical, oppressive, coercive=something
detestable vs.
dance=civilian=egalitarian, free, spontaneous=something

are, I suggest, rooted in a familiar modern experience in
which certain forms of dance (rock, disco, rave, etc.) are
associated with release from work in corporate settings
that have been (as Anthony Sampson reminds us in
_Company Man: The Rise and Fall of Corporate Life_) more
or less consciously modeled on military organizations. In so
far as "work" is seen in terms of this classic industrial
model as boring, repetitious, something to escape, the
experience in question feeds our own culturally based
(a.k.a. "emic") conceptualizations of dance and drill. [One
might also note at this point that in so far as schools are
organized on similar industrial lines, release from
schooling comes to equal release from work.]

In our current debate, critiques of these conceptions have
focused on frame-breaking evidence that (1) drill can be
fun and (2) activities identified as dance can be highly
formalized and practiced in settings that suggest more
"drill" than release.

If we set this discussion in the context of Mary Douglas'
four-cell table, we may note that we have been arguing
back and forth along the diagonal that links the low-group,
low-grid and the high-group, high-grid possibilities. What,
then, of the missing cells? Low-group, high-grid? Or High-
group, low-grid? Are there rhythmically patterned
activities (dances, drills or something else?) that fall into
these positions?

Having sorted this out, we might then be ready to add
another dimension--time--and consider the historical
moments from which we speak and in which the activities
to which we refer are located. Now we must deal seriously
with the issues raised by Kotliar, when he writes,

"The waltz may seem formal to us now, but when it was
introduced it was considered a break from the formality of
line dances. It was also considered licentious and
overstimulating (the whirling of a waltz is quite thrilling!).
Rather than being stultifying, it was banned in many
countries as was its music. Later similiar kind of rhetoric
was applied to the wild dancing that accompanied jazz and
Latin rhythms. Even in formal ballroom dances with a set
repertoire of moves there is a channel for passion and
sexuality which some associate only with free form
dancing. The movie Strictly Ballroom shows that the
passion in a given dance is often determined by the
dancers rather than the dance!"

Now Douglas' four-cell table becomes a space within which
motion is possible, with, for example, perceptions of the
waltz moving from a highly liberated (but is it low-group,
low-grid? low-group, high-grid? or high-group, low-grid?)
position to being seen in more restrictive (high-group,
high-grid?) terms as a dance for for social elites much
concerned both with their class identity and their rank
within it.

The thought appears, does the waltz perhaps
recapitulate the history of the bourgeousie with whom it is
usually associated, from an outrageously liberated sort of
thing to do in social contexts still dominated by ideas
associated with agrarian aristocracy to a stultifying
expression of a now dominant bourgeoise class's rigidity?
Then imagination speaks: Those courtiers dancing at the
Austro-Hungarian imperial court are enacting the very
image of nuclear family satellites spinning in orbits
defined by the music sponsored by an autocratic ruler.
That their well-ordered world will soon spin out of control
is also worth pondering.

John McCreery
February 17, 1996