Session/Séance 5e: IASPM Panel 2 Ethnographies of Exceptional Dancers and Musicians

Session/Séance 5e: IASPM Panel 2. Friday/vendredi 26 May 2017. 11:00AM-1:00PM, EJB 216.
Ethnographies of Exceptional Dancers and Musicians
     Moderator: KRISTA BANASIAK (York University)


1. Tahtil Shibbek: Shooting from the Hip. Reconfiguring the Musical Situatedness of Belly Dance Outside Egypt
     Siouxsie Cooper, Independent Scholar

Egypt is a musical nation, the common learning style is oral/aural for example the Quoran is memorised through singing it; music has a prominent cultural significance in Egypt. Music is a performance frame for Belly Dance, and more recently a revision of the cultural situatedness of that music is heralding a move away from the Orientalist pastiche representation of the popular dance towards a contemporary female performance art. By contrast in Europe and North America visual/verbal learning style is dominant with Belly Dance’s visual characteristics taking precedence over musical interpretation in the Belly Dancing body. In this paper I demonstrate a cultural turn on the European and American Belly Dancefloor in which dancers are embodying a new musical and cultural understanding of the sonic, rhythmic and lyrical content of the music of Egypt. Belly Dance is a popular dance culture rooted in Egypt but one that has travelled and been exported extensively around the world. Belly Dance as a community of shared popular dance practice (Lave and Wenger: 2001) in the UK and in North America provides a variety of hybrid music to dance to, rooted in the Egyptian musical canon but also divergent from it. One significant consequence is that Belly Dance in Egypt is highly improvisational and performative whereas outside Egypt it has become choreographed and embedded in a fantasy notion of the Orient. The cultural turn towards a new understanding of the musical frame of Belly Dance has brought about a more improvisational style of dance along with other performative devices such as the dancer’s relationship to the audience. Tahtil Shibbek is a prime example of the meaning found when dancing to the words of the song, which in turn brings to the fore a new level of humour, audience interaction and the embodiment of the bawdy high female camp presence on stage. I argue that the “narrative of authenticity” (Cooper: 2012) related to the musical situatedess of the dancer on the Belly Dancing floor is paramount. I will demonstrate with the use of YouTube recordings the cultural turn found in current Belly Dance practice outside of Egypt. I will also physically present the differences and demonstrate with a recording of the music how the sonic and lyrical structures and the rhythmic underpinning of the music operate in a Belly Dance performance.


2. Bodies in Competitive Dance: A Site for Social, Economic, and Cultural Consumption
     Nicole Marrello, York University

Current television shows So You Think You Can Dance and Dance Moms have brought increased public awareness to the popular dance form that is competitive dance. In actuality, this dance event is rich in history and has been practiced within Ontario for close to seventy-years. According to Barbara Herrnstein Smith the location of meaning within an art form not only makes it possible to consider how the practice functions, but within what conditions, and for whom. Nevertheless competitive dance has been largely investigated from a position grounded in moral panic, with focus turned towards improper technique, suggestive body movements, and inappropriate costuming. Conversely competitive dance has the opportunity to be read as a product within popular culture, thus providing the possibility for deeper understanding in areas surrounding youth and consumption. Using the theories of Simon Frith, Sherril Dodds and Lisa McCormick this talk will uncover the social and economic relationships that exist between the participants of competitive dance. This dance event created and produced by adults, executed by children and purchased by their parents forms a unique production cycle unlike other children’s competitive endeavors. Through in-depth fieldwork it was uncovered that dance and music once shared a competitive history under the sponsorship of the Kiwanis and Peel Musical Festivals. Therefore, this talk will also consider the ways in which competitive dance has been promoted, creating a separation from the “competition festival” format. Finally, by locating meaning and value within the participants of competitive dance, concepts of social, economic, and cultural capital will be explored, uncovering the impact they have upon the consumption of competition.

Keywords: dance, competition, media, youth, consumption


3. Negotiating the First Dance Ritual at American Weddings: How do Non-Traditional Dancers Interact with a “Traditional” Dancer?
     Kathryn Rochelle, Independent Scholar

Within conventional American weddings we can observe a microcosm of the cultural codes and social pressures which exist in society at large. Just as wedding rituals change to reflect society, the wedding industrial complex adjusts to meet the needs created by the newly altered ritual. The industry exists in a state of flux and at times contradiction, resulting in modern weddings which incorporate an admixture of both real and invented traditions. As such, a bridal couple’s first dance is by no means a continuous or stable element of wedding ritual. This paper questions the conventional or “traditional” first dance and explores how this dance interacts with social change and the commodification of American weddings. Several groups or subcultures which had previously been excluded from the traditional white wedding have received greater access and acceptance in the late twentieth century, including same-sex and intercultural couples who utilize the first dance in one of two ways. One, the dance may be a marker of cultural legitimization through symbolic assimilation of mainstream ritual. Or two, the dance might appropriate and redefine dominant conventions of love and marriage. Thus, the bridal couple’s first dance is a flexible ritual which requires only superficial, external consent of participants which simultaneously preserves their autonomy by changing and adjusting elements of the ritual itself. This research utilizes anthropological methodologies and draws upon the author’s ethnographic experience as a professional wedding dance instructor over a period of four years.

Keywords: wedding dance, ritual, same-sex couples, intercultural couples, tradition


4. ¡Toronto tiene su cosa!: Salsa Musicians in Toronto
     Sean Bellaviti, Ryerson University

¡Toronto tiene su cosa! (“Toronto has its thing”) is how one Chicago-based journalist has described the salsa scene in Canada’s most populous city (Vívelo Hoy, May 5, 2013). This shout out, though just a whisper in the great din of US music journalism, nonetheless seemed to confirm what many locals players had already suspected. From the 1990s to the late 2000s, Toronto’s salsa musicians progressed from performing mainly in cover bands to forming accomplished ensembles with original repertoires and identifiable styles. Some reasons for this transition appear intensely local and indeed tenuous, such as the fact that a substantial number of performances occur in one venue: Toronto’s Lula Lounge. Others are tied to events taking place much further afield, including the steady influx of Cuban musicians since the mid-1990s. The scene’s cultural geography has also posed significant barriers to its development. As a genre salsa maintains very strong associations to specific cities throughout the USA, the Caribbean and South America, and for this reason Toronto musicians are often overlooked by international recording labels. Moreover, within Canada, salsa is a niche (micro)music (Slobin 2000) that for varying economic and sociological reasons tends to limit the pool of competent musicians to only the country’s largest cities. The scene’s steady transition into a more established and increasingly transnational performance centre has had a signficant social impact, hightening competition and the importance of strong musical networks or “nexuses” (Packman 2007, 2009 and 2011). I examine the political economy of Toronto’s salsa scene, focusing on the social and economic challenges facing local musicians and its impact on performance competences (Brinner 1995). I also extend Lise Waxer’s pioneering ethnography (1991), identifying important changes and continuities in the way salsa is performed Toronto.

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