Female Bodies, Dancing Icons: Feministing Blog Competition
As a follow up to my previous post about this great blog post submitted to Feministing.com during their blogging competition, I thought I would also post my reaction to their choose of a competition name and icon:
The first time I watched So You Think You Can Dance was during a period in my life in which I was conducting ethnographic research with Latin Dance communities in the United States. Like any good cultural critic, I quickly found myself immediately analyzing how troubling the new reality television show really was, particularly with regard to representations of race, gender, and sexuality.
Performances of the tango and salsa on the show, for example, are evocative of over a century worth of highly problematic caricatures of Latin America. Since the early twentieth century, the United States has had a fascination with Latin America in general, and Latin dance more specifically. From the Latin dance craze of the early 1910s/20s to to the mambo & salsa craze of the 1950s/60s, and from Dirty Dancing to SYTYCD, caricatures of Latin dance emerge from Latin America’s history as a colonized and post-colonial region. It also points to the relationship that we in the U.S. have to formerly colonized regions: we sexualize them, we eroticize them, and we feminize them.
And when we’re talking about Latin dance (as opposed to say, music or art), we’re already dealing with an expressive form that is highly feminized. The primary tool of dance is the human body, and more often than not a queer body or a female body. The creative intellect behind dance (the mind), however, has historically been a male domain. In dance, male choreographers exert their agency on the female body – they exert their control of the female body. Even into the twenty-first century, dance (and theater) as artistic and academic disciplines remain highly divided along gender lines. Female and queer dancers = the body. Heterosexual male choreographers = the mind.
This is, of course, nothing new and not surprising to anyone. Which is way I was immediately surprised by the title and logo of this competition: “So you Think You Can Blog” alongside the silhouette of dancing female body. Why not “American Blogger” or “America’s Got Blogging”? Why not “Blogging Idol”? In other words, why associate a feminist blogging competition with a (relatively speaking) lesser known-dance competition? Why not use the iconic music competition American Idol? Why dance, not music?
Western European classical music, of which all the pop music featured on American Idol is based, has historically been associated with mathematics and the mind. As such, all aspects of musical creation, performance, and dissemination has been dominated by men. And largely still are, with Madonna being the first female pop star to engage in the creation of her music & videos, rather than just their performance.
Although they do so in different ways, both music and dance historically and currently marginalize the contributions of women by limiting access to both the performance and creation of art. I worry that the icon of this competition reinforces the “dance = feminine/queer body = gendered/sexual/racial ‘Other’ ” relationship without challenging the “music = male intellect = hegemonic white heterosexual male” relationship.
And what are the larger ramifications of reinforcing these historic relationships, particularly in a forum that prioritizes the female voice?