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Questioning Gender Through Dance's picture

First of all, apologies for being antisocial and doing my teach-in so individually. I really liked the group participation that so many of the other ones provided and I'm sorry mine kind of lacked that dimension!

For my presentation, I wanted to showcase some of the instances in which the assumptions about gender that we've been questioning all semester get questioned variously embodied ways in four distinct dance worlds, suggesting that in its inherent playfulness and performativity, dance is an important outlet for the creative expression of gender, both normative and nonnormative.

(Before I go through them, here's a great TED talk, Dance vs powerpoint, that inspired me to think about how one might do a "teach-in" that incorporates dance. If I had more than 7 minutes, I would have been doing some movement myself -- and getting you all to move, too!)

1. Contact improv is "a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation." We watched part of a performance called "Gender Report," in which three dancers answer questions about how they express/experience their gender through dancing, as they are actually performing. I find the entanglements between their bodies to be really beautiful, and the entangling of the physical and verbal to be suggestive of the ways in which "knowing" is not just a cognitive but also a physical experience, both in terms of gender and more broadly.

2. This article calls the hit TV show So You Think You Can Dance "one of the most experimental mainstream shows on television when it comes to gender and expression." Personally, I like the fact that they are not heteronormative in their pairings for couples dances, so there are lots of examples (including this one, with Sasha and Melanie from Season 8) in which boys are forced to dance with boys and girls with girls. Do you find this performance to be as gender-defying as feministing seems to think? What do you make of costuming, the style of movement, the interactions between the dancers?

3. In the world of contra dance, skirts are considered appropriate for both men and women -- after all, why should only women dancers get the joy of twirling in one? While this is a custom that's been normalized within the contra community, it is clearly still considered strange to those outside that community, as evidenced by the youtube video we watched. Regardless of what else is happening at the contra dance, the person filming was clearly focused on the presence of a man wearing a skirt. Small choices about gendered clothing in dance can be really subversive!

4. Finally, in researching dance and gender, I discovered Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo. This is how they describe themselves on their website:

It is a Company of professional male dancers performing the full range of the ballet and modern dance repertoire, including classical and original works in faithful renditions of the manners and conceits of those dance styles. The comedy is achieved by incorporating and exaggerating the foibles, accidents, and underlying incongruities of serious dance. The fact that men dance all the parts--heavy bodies delicately balancing on toes as swans, sylphs, water sprites, romantic princesses, angst-ridden Victorian ladies--enhances rather than mocks the spirit of dance as an art form, delighting and amusing the most knowledgeable, as well as novices, in the audiences.

What I like about Trockadero is how they challenge the specific gender roles present in classical ballet -- it's pretty much unheard-of for men to dance on pointe shoes in most other ballet contexts. I also like how they use humor without undermining the artistic integrity of what they're doing. While acknowledging and "going with" the fact that what they're doing is funny, they are also just great dancers showing how constructed our notions of "what type of person should do what type of dancing" really are! Here's the clip of Swan Lake we watched part of in class.