Digital Media and Virtual Performance, Graduate

Practice Reflection #2: Show Choir, GLEE, and Learning to Dance Again

I danced in show choir for three years in high school, though I really saw it as an opportunity to sing more than to move. I would come home from dance retreat weekends extremely sore, thinking about moving my body in new ways.

When it came time to practice for the digital dance circulation assignment, I thought back to the dozens of show choir videos that recorded our performances over the years. I never actually watched these at the time, and I thought it would be a great challenge to use myself as an example of a dance in circulation.

Watching myself dance in video highlighted lot of things in relation to my own body that I hadn’t considered while onstage. For one, it took me a minute to find myself in the performance – the videographer clearly wanted to capture one of my friends, and so it’s intended less as an instructional video and more as a performance. But I started to think of these dance movements as something separate from the music, or the performance, or the experience of being onstage. Here, it really became an opportunity to think of my body as an interface, and movement solely as movement.

In terms of choreography, I found myself drawn to the girls’ part immediately – after all, that’s what I did for 9 months onstage. Some of this was actually kind of familiar and easy to replicate. (Like this move, which I still occasionally burst into when I’m bored, because it’s basically second-nature at this point.) But it was much more challenging to try out the guys’ movements – not only because I hadn’t done them, but in that they feel explicitly gendered. Girls shimmy and shake, flounce and twirl, showing off their dresses. The guys, on the other hand, are often much more rigid with their movements. Most of them were pretty uncomfortable dancing, and it shows when you try and retranslate that onto your own body.

I was also curious about what of this is choreographed, and how much of this choreography was our own. So much of this about what we each added onto the performance – paying attention to the facial expressions, the way we move from dot to dot, or prepare for the next major mark. Thinking about what was choreographed and what was improvised, I wondered how the context of re-performing elements of a recorded performance highlights these details. What does the change in interface and purpose do for this experience?

In Kathrin Peters’ and Andrea Seier’s “Home Dance: Mediacy and Aesthetics of the Self on YouTube,” the authors delve into media apparatuses as spaces of revelation. In my remediation & recording of the historical home video (which, essentially, is what the show choir video was), what kind of statement was I making in my remake? What are you seeing of me in my sweatpants, copying the moves of my younger self? Is there a transgression here? And what is transgression saying about me – learning from my formal self, perhaps making fun of me?

Following the show choir theme, I immediately thought of how I first encountered Beyonce’s viral choreography. Watching Glee is the first & only distinct memory I have of watching the “Single Ladies” dance, despite the show airing almost a year after the video’s premiere. (I was not very hip on pop culture back then.)

Glee is something of a remake and reenactment in itself – of every pop culture reference of 2009 to 2015, of Broadway showtunes, surviving for the most part on parody. The whole episode revolves around “Single Ladies” as a plot point, in which sophomore Kurt tries out for the football team to impress his father and cover for recording himself. So, three major performances of the choreography: 1) at the episode’s beginning, in which Kurt records himself dancing to Single Ladies with two friends, and 2) Kurt’s “audition” for the football team, and 3) the night of the big game, in which they use “Single Ladies” to distract the other team. (There is a lot to be said about this in terms of social dance, mediacy and aesthetics of the self, but that would be a totally different reflection.)

I switched through the three videos, all fairly short in length, thinking about what I was learning about “Single Ladies” and bodily interfaces by watching each of them. In trying to move through the gender dynamics back onto me & my interface, I couldn’t help but think of the class conversations about gender performance in the Dance Central games. The episode hinges on the gimmick of the stereotypical football players dancing to the song, juxtaposed with Kurt’s flamboyance in the first two videos. In performing Kurt’s rendition of the dance, I found myself embodying his character more so than the dance movements – his obvious transgressions in his bedroom as a closeted gay man performing the popular song, his nervousness and yet subtle confidence in preparing for the field goal. When performing as the football players, on the other hand, I found myself pretending to be wearing the heavy uniform and gyrating appropriately for that kind of bodily interface. In reference to what this says about “Single Ladies,” kept thinking of Sydney’s question in class with some of comics/memes: “Can someone explain the joke to me here?” Once I started performing as the football players, the joke or premise seemed less obvious. When it came down to thinking of “Single Ladies” not as a song but as a specific set of movements, my association with the choreography on some level has always been tied up in this performance of gender. What does it do to “Single Ladies” when the remediation moves through this feminine-masculine-feminine transition of style, from body to body, until you reach my own again?

Finally, in both cases, I had the strangest feeling of bonding with the questions of privacy, spectatorship, and intimacy of digital dance from Kiri Miller’s chapter in Playable Bodies. I found myself so uncomfortable with the idea of performing these movements publicly (or privately for my webcam), and even embarrassed by the idea of doing them in my own room. But seven years ago, I was doing these movements in public, for the purpose they intended! In this case, the surveillance technology was the blinking green light on my laptop that I used to record myself. What was embarrassing about this particular situation that wasn’t embarrassing seven years before?

3 thoughts on “Practice Reflection #2: Show Choir, GLEE, and Learning to Dance Again”

  1. Thank you for your reflection, Emily! I love that you chose to learn a dance from a video of your past self. I also really appreciated your commentary on the gender politics of you learning from yourself and your inclination to learn the girls’ part. I’m deeply interested in the experience of surveilling yourself in this way and also feeling uncomfortable with re-performing this choreography. What makes us more comfortable with watching (a past version of ourselves) ourselves do something than actually doing that thing?

    I also love you conversation about Glee. I haven’t watched Glee, so I had no idea that “Single Ladies” was such a throughline for the plot of this episode. It’s interesting to think about how this choreography has become such a representation of gender presentation (as Bench discusses), and how that plays out in this episode. Your discussion of how you were more inclined to embody Kurt’s character and experience than the exact movement evokes for me a lot of the power of movement, especially when a well-known dance like this is used to form a plot.

  2. Hi Emily, thanks for the reflection. I, too, have had the experience of watching myself dance as a child, and was amused by my blatant inability to dance paired with my complete indifference to this fact (less messily confident, more bored). The idea of body-consciousness seems like an important thread in your reflection. One body-consciousness is that of seeing your body as a vessel carrying certain meanings which have to be maintained. The Glee character might fear punishment by taking on a gay-coded performance. Punishment for him was an immediate and present possibility. But it’s difficult for me to understand the painfulness with which men have to maintain masculinity when not doing so presents less of an immediate threat. I guess no one is fully comfortable in their straight identities, and we all face societal bias in doing something non-normative. But there is a more internal level to this discomfort. What is its source? That you don’t appear masculine, yes — what is the source of /that/ discomfort? I have a slightly bad memory of trying on boy’s clothes with my friend once. I remember looking in the mirror, in my mustache and cowboy hat, and feeling…sort of incapable. Worse, I can’t explain it — wet, and furry, somehow. A “little man” (I’m 5’5). That’s so unfair to short men. I wonder if what I was feeling touches upon this strange beast that men deal with especially.

    I wonder how body-consciousness relates to your self-consciousness being seen dancing, as an older person. What is the root of the fear of being seen?
    Maybe it’s that sort of furriness…an unpalatable honesty.

  3. So much is so beautifully put here. I’m particularly drawn to, “my association with the choreography on some level has always been tied up in this performance of gender.” I think the thread you pull from Beyonce to Glee to your own body and back is a productive one, especially insomuch as the transitions from one to the other seem to simultaneously clarify and murk what is essential to the dance that is “Single Ladies.” It’s as though the dance isn’t actually the choreography, but rather a sequence of gestures done to music, sometimes in a particular order, but (per the football example and even Kurt’s video) as often just rhythmic stepping, leg slapping and pointing to one’s ring finger. The constellation of earlier “Single Lady” videos does the work of situating us in a particular signifying (and gendered) universe, and whether the performance one is watching is sincere (Kurt) or ironical (the football players, I suppose).

    But your final paragraph is, I think, quite revealing, and perhaps worth continued reflection. Your experience of fleeting, context-specific embarrassment is an interesting data point. I wonder what it is about returning to the experience of one’s younger self that can trigger negative affects like shame. Perhaps more specifically, I wonder about the work of reflecting on an earlier embodied moment relative it’s degree of publicness or privacy, especially from an era marked by (per Kiri) omnipresent surveillance and perpetual performance for unknown audiences?

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