She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body — November 2015

PoP Moves member Dr Melissa Blanco Borelli’s new book She is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body (Oxford University Press)  is scheduled for release on 7 November 2015. Here is what you will read on its back cover.

“This triumphant offering invigorates dance scholarship with an outstanding coordination of historical method, performative writing, and coherent, compelling analysis of dance practice in Cuba. Written with authority, literary drive, and compassion, She Is Cuba answers a call for carefully considered research to explore the racialized feminine, the powers of the State, and to demonstrate the centrality of the living body in the construction of social identity.”—Thomas F. DeFrantz, Professor of African & African American Studies and Dance, Duke University

“The mulata body dances off the page. Blanco Borelli writes her way through the Cuban siren-call of the hips. Her bi-lingual and seductive language privileges rumor and corporeality while engaging with rich histories sprung from archival research.”–Anita Gonzalez, Professor of Theatre and Drama, University of Michigan

She is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body traces the history of the Cuban mulata and her association with hips, sensuality and popular dance. It examines how the mulata choreographs her racialised identity through her hips and enacts an embodied theory called hip(g)nosis. By focusing on her living and dancing body in order to flesh out the process of identity formation, this book makes a claim for how subaltern bodies negotiate a cultural identity that continues to mark their bodies on a daily basis. Combining literary and personal narratives with historical and theoretical accounts of Cuban popular dance history, religiosity and culture, this work investigates the power of embodied exchanges: bodies watching, looking, touching and dancing with one another. It sets up a genealogy of how the representations and venerations of the dancing mulata continue to circulate and participate in the volatile political and social economy of contemporary Cuba.

Advertisements

Another whirl around the dance floor

This week, BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing (the U.K. version of ‘Dancing with the Stars’) began to reveal its series 13 line-up (so far we have a radio presenter, a soap star and a celebrity chef). This seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on the historical context of the programme and highlight some of the debates that surround one of the BBC’s most successful light entertainment shows.

The U.K. television talent show originally emerged from the popular talent show programmes from the 1970s and 1980s, including New Faces (1973-1988) and Opportunity Knocks (1956-1990). These programmes showcased talent acts and relied on the studio audience to clap the loudest for their favourite act, or for viewers to send in their choices on a postcard. Strictly specifically evolved from the light entertainment format Come Dancing (1949-1988) where regional ballroom and Latin teams competed from around the country. John Fiske and John Hartley (1993) describe how the sporting structure of Come Dancing packaged the competition and hierarchy present in society in a light entertainment format, but offered neat formal resolutions in the achievement of the winners. The need for escapism and entertainment through the glitz and glamour of the competition was juxtaposed, however, against the amateur status and social reality of the contestants. So why not teach celebrities how to dance instead…

Nowadays, Strictly is lodged in the calendar as our annual dose of sequins, glamour, drama, romance, innuendo and, of course, partner dancing. The popular formula of celebrities teaming up with professional Ballroom and Latin dancers and competing on a weekly basis places the ideal of transformation at the heart of the programme (often both in terms of ability and dress size) and has been franchised worldwide under the Dancing with the Stars banner. While the judges’ mark the contestants’ ability to efficiently embody a specific corporeal technique on a weekly basis, the home viewer votes far more subjectively: who fell over, who had the most dramatic entrance, which couple is rumoured to be having an affair etc.

Two key debates have arisen before the start of this year’s broadcast. First of all, judge Craig Revel Horwood and former contestant Denise Van-Outen have called for same-sex couples to appear on Strictly within the next two years, breaking the continued heteronormative rhetoric regurgitated through the programme. Other than a single instance of a gay female sports star being paired with a heterosexual female professional dancer in in Israel’s Dancing with the Stars, the BBC will be foxtrotting into new territory. While the LGBT ballroom scene continues the flourish in U.K. cities (check out http://www.pinkjukebox.co.uk/ for LGBT classes in London), it will be interesting to see if broadcasters are ready to follow their lead.

The second debate is around the security of Strictly within the British Broadcasting Corporation. In the Conservative government’s recent green paper on the future of the BBC, it brings into question whether the broadcaster should be chasing ratings through popular entertainment formats or whether it should instead be delivering ‘quality’ programmes that are ‘unavailable on other television channels‘ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-33584893). While the culture secretary described Strictly as admirable in its attraction of mass audiences, these comments continue to place dance on the popular screen outside of the western art canon and devalue the quality and wider cultural significance of such popular programmes. Fingers crossed that Strictly continues to ‘keeeeep dancing!’

Virtually there… watching, sharing and remembering the International Dancehall Queen Competition online

PoP Moves committee member Celena Monteiro is working towards a PhD focused on transnational dancehall queen culture, in particular the contemporary relationship between European and Jamaican queens and the various dancehall ‘sites’, both virtual and concrete. Last year Monteiro travelled to Jamaica to conduct fieldwork during the International Dancehall Queen Competition in August 2014. This year, on 2 August 2015, she tuned in to watch the competition live once again, but this time via the International Dancehall Queen Competition website. Engaging this year via a screen was treated as an opportunity to compare the virtual viewing experience to the memory of viewing in-person last year.

Below is a reflexive abstract about her research experience:

“I woke up at 5am, hurrying to turn on my computer; I wanted to feel involved and was desperate for my physical distance to not hold me back. The virtual encounter, however, was rife with technical hiccups from the outset, which stunted my feelings of connectedness. For a while the audio played without any visual. The booming sounds of heavy base and plastic horns conjured the embodied memories I so desired, yet the blank screen juxtaposed like a sore reminder that I could only experience the event this year with the senses that technology would permit.

As a consequence of the technical difficulties, I, alongside other online viewers, began sharing advise and frustrations via the competition Facebook page and website forum. This felt significantly personal and I realised that my disconnection from the here-and-now of the event, was being substituted by my sense of immersion within the virtual dancehall queen community.

The hampered virtual experience was in many ways very different from the immediacy of being at the event last year. Involving myself in the online community left me feeling affected by the togetherness of relating to others who were equally invested, and realising this complicity was uplifting. Despite the distance, my experience was simultaneously thrilling and draining and the intensity of this emotional rollercoaster generated a nostalgic sense of connection to the memory of the year before. ”

Monteiro’s forthcoming PhD, is set to position virtually embodied experience within the discussion around transnational feminine networks within dancehall. For more on her research interests click here.

I feel like dancing…

I first became interested in dance flash mobs when I saw Colleen Dunagan (Associate Professor of Dance at California State University, Long Beach) give a presentation discussing the Black Eyed Peas and Oprah Winfrey ‘I Gotta Feeling’ flash mob of 2009.  In this powerfully emotive example of mass popular dance choreography it appears as if the entire crowd who are attending the live outdoor show are instantly transformed (perhaps by the power of popular dance?) into individuals who can count along with the music, remember long sequences of movement and generally perform like a company of trained dancers… Except they were.  For this amazing flash mob the participants were first auditioned and then required to attend 10 hours of rehearsals.  Does this matter?  The power of this flash mob is still impressive, although when you watch the clip again, perhaps some of the magic is lost.

There is something about flash mobs that I find really exciting – and particularly those where participants come together to perform after learning the dance material separately, secretly.  And for that reason, flash mobs are powerful politically – they have impact (on a micro and macro level).  This speaks to the power and importance of popular dance.

This long standing interest in flash mobs is why I found myself today putting together a video (and accompanying word description) for my wedding reception flash mob, which will take place in August this year.  (There, the secret is out!  Well, just don’t tell anyone who is coming to the wedding that isn’t invited to dance…) The process of choreography was actually joyous, and it reminded me of why I study popular dance.  As part of the ‘apparatus of academia’ where the rest of my working week is too often filled with reviewing past modules and planning for the new academic year, actually getting into the dance studio and moving was powerful in itself.

I gotta feeling, that tonight’s gonna be a good night!  Just wait for the video…

The Conversation Blows UpPoP Moves co-founder Professor Mary Fogarty was an invited Keynote speaker at the international conference, KISMIF (Keep It Simple! Make It Fast!) in Porto, Portugal on July 16th 2015.

Also for the KISMIF conference, Mary Fogarty and Helen Simard created two intervention performances, “Sharon and Tracy Exist” and “The Conversation Blows Up”, with music by Roger White of the Canadian band, Dead Messenger.

Here Mary Fogarty writes about her performance interventions, which took place on July 15, 2015. Read more of this blog post here: Mary Fogarty at KISMIF

PoP Moves Board Member Quoted in NY Times

Takiyah Nur Amin,  from PoP MOVES, was recently quoted in The New York Times in an article about J-Setting, a popular dance form with roots in black culture and the American south. The article highlights the Prancing Elites, an all -male J-Setting group that has courted controversy and celebration  for daring to dance in a form traditionally associated with women. Tracing its diasporic connections, Dr. Amin was asked to provide expert commentary on the form and its history. She is Assistant Professor of Dance Studies at UNC Charlotte.

Click here to access the article.

Life Lessons in Hip Hop

Professor Sherril Dodds from PoP MOVES, in collaboration with b-boys Steve “Steve Believe” Lunger and Mark “Metal” Wong, Co-Directors of Hip Hop Fundamentals, have initiated a new research project called “Life Lessons in Hip Hop”. The project focuses on on Temple Bboys, a student-led organization formally affiliated with Temple University, and the local North Philadelphia bboy community. The project has two main aims:

  • to document and preserve the vibrant dance practices of a Philadelphia ‘breaking’  community as its members engage in collective practice sessions and dance battles with other local dancers.
  • to elucidate how bboys draw on their embodied knowledge of breaking and battling to shape and inform other areas of their lives.

Click here for more information on Hip Hop Fundamentals and Temple Bboys.