SOCIOLOGY OF DANCE
Some of you have already taken classical social theory or even contemporary social theory, or cultural theory, and all of you have taken various other classes in sociology and/ or anthropology and have learnt about the various aspects and problems of society and cultural life. Here in The Sociology of Dance, you are being asked to draw upon your knowledge of social life and to come up with an interesting and creative idea for a research project. For many years I have worked on demonstrating how dance is a viable area of research and can be an interesting object of research for both sociology and anthropology. Now I want to see what you can come up with.
In you papers, I would like to see you questioning a theory or idea that deals with the social world today. For example, if you are interested in the social construction of sexuality and the body, you might want to look at the space that exotic dancing occupies in our social world today. You could look at its emergence and the moral issues that surround it. You could study its history and perhaps compare this kind of dancing to a music video. What is being generated in terms of sexuality and its meaning in both, and is there a clear line between the two forms? Are they both selling sex? Why is one form more socially acceptable than the other? You could analyze body movement, clothing, music choice…and even the venue. There is so much that can be analyzed here.
Also, pole dancing has become part of the gym culture. What are the social implications? And how might this new type of fitness craze, legitimate (or not) this dance practice. How has the transferring from the ‘strip joint’ to the gym change public perception? Or has it? Who practices this form of dance? And, why?
If you are interested in social dance forms such as Latin Dancing, you might want to try and understand the ballroom dance explosion that we are now witnessing. You can look at the meaning (racial politics, gender politics, sexual politics) of one form and analyze the social, political and cultural environment through which it emerged and ask how it fits into our world today. Look at the gender representation…i.e. the ‘machismo’ of the male dancer, for example, and the femininity of the female dancer and ask yourself where do these images fit in out contemporary world? What kinds of masculine and feminine images are being generated and where do they fit? With this kind of analysis you could situate it in a feminist theory that deals with issues surrounding the social construction of femininity. Or a theory that deals with masculinity and its implications. You can also look at the world of competitive ballroom.
You can look at a music video and question what popular image(s) are/ is being expressed? What can we learn about our social world though the music and dance moves? Look at the hybridization of forms and musical sounds and talk about cultural globalization.
If you are interested in Hip Hop you might want to look at its history and question the attitude that is being “commodified” by the global flow of this dance form. What does Hip Hop say? Or Express? Where did it come from and what does it mean that this form is found all over the world in fashion, music, style etc… What does it mean in terms of gender? Who does Hip Hop? Look at music videos…
You can look at other theatrical forms such as modern dance, contemporary dance, jazz dance, Broadway dancing, a Chorus Line, etc…and write about what kind of expression it embodies and what kind of cultural character it generates. Where did it come from and what does it express? Where does it fit in our social world today?
Burlesque is another form that seems to have found its way back into our city and many others? The film “Burlesque” also showcases the revival of this form. What is Burlesque? and where did it come from? What kind of world was it? And how did they perceive Burlesque? How does it fit into our postmodern world? And why do you think it has reemerged?
If you are looking at Raves and Clubbing you might want to study youth culture or what Thomas refers to as the ‘collective body’. Is it not strange that in a society that promotes individuality, youth still go clubbing to get a sense of ‘oneness’? Someone really needs to question this. You might want to look at youth culture and the punk rock era and the moral panic around this form of dance/ music. Look at crime and deviant behavior and how teens have been vilified in popular images/ culture and how the various dance venues or spaces have contributed to these images. And so on…
The social aspect of clubs, lounges, and dance events such as school dances…have always promoted, or rather, sold the idea of ‘dating’. Once upon a time people went to church socials to find their life partner. It shifted to the dinner clubs, to discos and now raves. Is the ‘dating scene’ the same in clubs as it is in raves? What are the differences?
There are many dance companies worldwide today whose members are physically disabled yet they are still dancing. They are extremely expressive and in some cases very moving. Look them up and come up with an angle.
Bollywood is huge today? It is a fusion of East and West and is massively produced and distributed all around the world. You could write a paper about this and find an angle/ question on perhaps the hybridity of this form. How do they reconcile the ideological differences that have divided East and West for centuries? Look at gender, sexuality, religion, marriage, love, education etc…
“So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars” are hugely successful television shows selling dance and having the lay person call in and vote for the person they like the best. You can look at several episodes and you can come up with many great research questions. There is so much to be analyzed here. Be creative….
The Flash Mob phenomenon seems to be growing these days. You might want to research how they emerged and why? What are they all about and why do people participate? Who participates and why? Where do they generally take place? You might want to look at Flash Mobs and evaluate it as a new kind of social movement.
Now if you still don’t know what to write on, you should look at a question about our social world, about a point in history, or a question about our city’s politics and try and answer your own question by looking at the expression of a particular dance form that might generate answers about a time and place and its politics. The most important aspect of this paper is that you need to have a theoretical component and an analysis. If you simply regurgitate what someone else has already written you will not get more than a B. You need to take what someone else has written and take it future with your own analysis.
The following are possible elements you may want to include:
-One section needs to be about the origins of a dance form (the history).
-You should explain the social context in which it emerged.
-Who danced this dance? What were they expressing? What do they look like (body)? What does that ‘look’ express?
-What has happened to the form? Who dances this dance now? And what is being sold? Who watches this form? Where is it performed? Who participates? Are they group dances or individual?
-What can we learn about the social world in which this dance form is practiced?
-Expression is key here. In other words, what is the dance, the body, the space, the city, the culture, the music, the dancers….expressing? And what can we learn from it?