Unchecked Popularity: Neoliberal Circulations of Black Social Dance

September 17, 2012
Monday, October 22, 2012 - 12:30pm to 2:00pm
George Wells Knight House, 104 East 15th Avenue

 

Thomas F. DeFrantz Lecture

Unchecked Popularity: Neoliberal Circulations of Black Social Dance

African American social dances are complex performances that tie social agency, communal exchange, individual creativity, and personal expression to practices that demonstrate vectors of gender, sexuality, ability, location, class, age, and place. This talk offers a critique of the expansive category of popular culture built around circulations of black social dance; circulations that allow dance structures to proliferate without reference to the particular historical circumstances or connection to people who produce the dances. Global markets allow these social dances to be appropriated and repurposed as intellectual property to generate profit; in millennial terms, black social dance becomes a way to understand presence within global economies.
 
To underscore the neoliberal logic that feeds these contemporary circulations, DeFrantz will look back to American popular culture of the 1960s and 1970s evidenced by the widely distributed television programs American Bandstand and Soul Train, as well as the ideologies of dance that circulated at Motown records in this same period. He will offer an exceptionalist counter-example in a consideration of funk dance and music practices as exemplary of creative black social spaces that resist commodity co-option but may still be ripe for latter-day neoliberal exploitation. DeFrantz will also argue that neoliberal discourses of freedom encourage the spread of black social dance beyond historical markers of located communal resistance to market forces, and relocate capacities of communal pleasure to a dispersed global populace of consumers.
 
Thomas F. DeFrantz is Professor of Dance and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the director of SLIPPAGE: Performance,Culture, Technology, a research group that explores emerging technology in live performance applications, in residence at Duke University. His books include the edited volume Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance (University of Wisconsin Press, 2002, winner of the CHOICE Award for Outstanding Academic Publication and the Errol Hill Award presented by the American Society for Theater Research) and Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey's Embodiment of African American Culture (Oxford University Press, 2004, winner of the de la Torre Bueno Prize for Outstanding Publication in Dance). A director and writer, he is currently President of the Society of Dance History Scholars.
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