Paper Session
Nov 12, 2021 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211112T1400 20211112T1450 America/Chicago Categorizing Style in Popular Dance AMS 2021
The Steps and Social Meanings of the Carolina Shag
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 20:50:00 UTC

The regional genre of Carolina beach music and the associated shag dance remain largely unheard of outside the southeast, despite their cultural significance and elevated legal status as official state symbols in South Carolina. While beach music and the shag are cited in a handful of music reference texts (Bogdanov et al. 2003; Kernodle et al. 2010), there has been no systematic attempt to identify their stylistic boundaries, elucidate their social value, or interrogate the forces underlying their emergence and perpetuation. A product of the segregated landscape of the Carolina coast, beach music and the shag emerged as white teenagers ventured into Black juke joints, shifting "race records" and dance steps to the jukeboxes and boardwalks of white beach pavilions. By the mid-1950s, white audiences throughout the southeast were listening to Big Joe Turner and cultivating a new dance style called the shag, investing Black expressive practices with cultural meanings related to white experiences of the southern beach landscape. 

In this paper, I analyze the shag as both a swing dance variant with growing mainstream appeal and a cultural project inextricable from the coastal landscape from which it came. Drawing on fieldwork and scholarship on contemporary swing dance scenes (Hancock 2007; Unser 2001; Wade 2011), I argue that the shag functions as an enactment of cultural identities informed by race, place, gender, and generation. I begin by exploring connections between the shag and other popular swing dance styles such as the Big Apple, the Lindy Hop, and the Jitterbug in order to examine the appropriation and resignification of Black social dance by white beach communities in North and South Carolina. Against this historical background, I consider the recent fragmentation between the musical styles and social groups associated with the beach music and shag dance scenes. Theorizing regional beach music artists and the national competitive dance circuit as opposing forces within this community, I assess the shag's capacity to meaningfully exceed its cultural bounds. Ultimately, my research contributes to scholarly discourses on the politics of social dance and the processes by which complex meanings are inscribed in music through movement.

Mary McArthur
Eastman School Of Music (University Of Rochester)
“We Like to be Conservative Together”: Justin Peck, Sufjan Stevens, and Innovation in a Nostalgic Art Form
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 20:50:00 UTC

"We like to be conservative together," says Sufjan Stevens in a 2019 interview regarding his collaborations with choreographer Justin Peck. It's a strange sentiment coming from Stevens, whose musical stylings range from folksy odes to orchestral suites to electronic reflections, and whose theological texts and musical sophistication further complicate this diverse output.  It's even stranger applied to his collaborations with Peck, the current darling of the ballet world, whose innovative choreography is hailed as the breath of fresh air so desperately needed by an ostensibly ossifying artform. However, it nevertheless remains an apt remark; their six collaborations are fairly traditional: recognizable vocabulary, women en pointe, stark formalist lines. This dissonance between innovation and tradition is the central theme of reception of these pieces, and this ambiguity is expressed clearly in the shifting epithets applied to Stevens and his music.

Some of the epithets applied to Stevens change as his career develops-"indie singer-songwriter" to "Oscar-nominated composer"-but others belie fascination with Stevens' complicated output, ranging from "indie-folk phenom" to "pop luminary/weirdo". To be sure, these creative appellations are not unique to ballet critics; a review in Pitchfork refers to him as a "baroque pop polymath" and Stevens himself offered the description "modernist neo-romantic post-minimalist traditionalist". Contesting none of these titles, I see that this flexibility of Stevens is a valuable tool for critics grappling with the place of a choreographer like Peck, both operating in a recognizable and treasured tradition and breathing life into that tradition in exciting ways.

The Rhythm of Life is a Powerful Beat: Towards a Theory of Rhythm in Film Editing
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 20:50:00 UTC

Rhythm is the single thread connecting the many facets of Bob Fosse's career. His experience as a dancer, choreographer, and director shaped the rhythmic properties of his productions, and yet the editing of his films remains an unexplored vector for analyzing rhythm in Bob Fosse's artistic output. In this paper, I argue that the films of Bob Fosse show a director grappling with rhythm in new ways. Despite a wide variety of dramatic content, these films are a unique opportunity to theorize the rhythmic editing of film for the first time.

Fosse directed five films in the span of one decade: Sweet Charity (1969); Cabaret (1972); Liza with a Z (1972); Lenny (1974); and All That Jazz (1979). My understanding of the rhythmic content of these films is enhanced by interviews conducted with some of Fosse's film editors, like Alan Heim, the editor for Lenny and All That Jazz, and by research convened at the Library of Congress, in the Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon Collection.  

I have found that Fosse manipulates rhythm in three ways: musically (the performed musical score), physically (the staged choreography), and visually (the edited cuts). These corresponding layers of rhythm are a complex nexus, providing a foundation for our understanding of film music's visual rhythm. This collection of films shows Fosse growing in confidence as a director: earlier films exhibit more "conservative" hard cuts on the downbeats of large rhythmic groups; later films show a more flexible approach to rhythm, allowing Fosse to underscore artistic, humorous, or dramatic elements. Sammy Davis Jr., in Sweet Charity, functions as an avatar of Bob Fosse himself, as he sings, "The rhythm of life is a powerful beat."

Alex Ludwig
Berklee College Of Music
Berklee College of Music
Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester)
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