What happens when machines teach humans to dance?
Dance video games transform players’ experiences of popular music, invite experimentation with gendered and racialized movement styles, and present new possibilities for teaching, learning, and archiving choreography.
Dance games are part of a media ecology that includes the larger game industry, viral music videos, reality TV competitions, marketing campaigns, and emerging surveillance technologies. The circulation of dance gameplay and related body projects across media platforms illuminates how dance games function as intimate media, configuring new relationships among humans, interfaces, music and dance repertoires, and social media practices.
This according to Playable bodies: Dance games and intimate media by Kiri Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017).
Above, a Just dance session; below, a Dance central session. Both game series serve as case studies in the book, which draws on five years of research with players, game designers, and choreographers.
Danse électro originated in France at the beginning of the 2000s. Inspired by other European dance movements, danse électro went on to become a global phenomenon.
Tecktonik, registered as a trademark in France in 2002, played an important role in the spread of the movement. The Tecktonik trademark branded nightclubs, compilation albums, and various tie-in products, including clothes (above) and alcoholic and energy drinks.
While danse électro was one of several movements involving dancing to electronic music, it maintained its identity through brand placement, the involvement of pre-teenagers, and information technologies, particularly Web 2.0 applications.
This according to “Tecktonik and danses électro: Subculture, media processes, and Web 2.0” by Anne Petiau, an essay included in Made in France: Studies in popular music (New York: Routledge, 2018, pp. 203–15).
Below, Alive by Mondotek, a danse électro hit from 2007.
During the Great Depression Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and Shirley Temple made a number of films together in which narratives depict an America where black people are happy slaves or docile servants, Civil War (even southern) soldiers are noble Americans, and voracious capitalists are kindly old men. But within these minstrel tropes and origin stories designed for uplift, the films challenge regressive ideologies through Robinson and Temple’s incendiary dance partnership.
For example, while the stair dance in The little colonel is part of the story, it is bracketed as a time outside the movie’s narrative flow. This thrusts the dance through the fixity of Jim Crow social constructs to reveal them as constructs, demonstrating the layered and molten nature of race and gender, and offering moviegoers a vision of the sociological and existential structures of U.S. society reimagined.
This according to “Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple tap past Jim Crow” by Anne Murphy, an essay included in The Oxford handbook of screendance studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 731–47).
Today is Robinson’s 140th birthday! Above and below, the celebrated stair dance.
T. Balasaraswati (1918–84), a dancer and musician from southern India, became recognized worldwide as one of the great performing artists of the twentieth century. In India she was a legend in her own time, acclaimed before she was 30 years old as the greatest living dancer of traditional bharata nāṭyam.
Balasaraswati was a passionate revolutionary, an entirely modern artist whose impact was proclaimed by some of the most prominent figures in contemporary dance in India and the West. Her art and life defined the heart of a tradition, and her life story offers an extraordinary view of the enigmatic matrilineal devadāsī community and traditional artistic practice from which modern South Indian dance styles have emerged.
This according to Balasaraswati: Her art and life by Douglas M. Knight (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2010).
Today is Balasaraswati’s 100th birthday! Below, a 30-minute film about her by Satyajit Ray.
Each January, Cape Town’s sixty-plus minstrel troupes take over the city center with a sweeping wave of sound and color in the annual carnival known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar (the Second of New Year). The celebration’s origins are often linked with the December 1st emancipation processions of the mid-to-late 1800s that celebrated the abolition of slavery in 1834, and also with the annual slave holiday, the one day a year slaves could take off work.
The parading troupes, called Kaapse Klopse (Clubs of the Cape), use their bodies to collectively lay claim to Cape Town and access urban space through sonic and embodied performances, re-appropriating city space in relation to the black community’s colonial and apartheid experiences of dispossession, forced removals, and social dislocation.
Despite the increased formal recognition that the event has received in recent years as an important heritage practice, participants’ embodied claims continue to be undermined, contested, and policed. Through their affective experiences, participants memorialize places of significance and occupy the city; far from a form of escapist revelry, these sonic and embodied acts are practiced and disciplined choreographic moves that pose a challenge to Cape Town’s contemporary spatial order.
This according to “Choreographing Cape Town through goema music and dance” by Francesca Inglese (African music IX/4  pp. 123–45). Below, Kaapse Klopse in 2013.
Competitive air guitarists have long understood that their art form provides an ideal means for contesting the overwhelming whiteness of rock and the electric guitar, sometimes extending their critique to include gender as well.
Asian and Asian American competitors in particular have used their performances to comment ironically on the emasculation of Asian males and the infantilization of Asian females through the construct of Asian fury, helping audiences to reimagine the linkages between race and rock.
This according to “Asian fury: A tale of race, rock, and air guitar” by Sydney Hutchinson (Ethnomusicology LX/3 [fall 2016] pp. 411–33).
Above and below, David “C-Diddy” Jung, winner of the first U.S. national air guitar championship and perhaps the originator of the term Asian fury as it applies to air guitar; the video shows his award-winning performance in 2003.
In 19th-century Europe, the term bayadère—derived from the Portuguese bailadeira—referred to a Romantic concept of the Hindu devadāsī, a female temple dancer.
“Who has not heard of the bayadères,” gushed Victor Dandré, Anna Pavlova’s companion and manager, “so graceful and of such incomparable beauty, dancing sacred dances in temples and secular ones at feasts?”
In fact, Europeans had virtually no information on this subject at all, but that did not deter some of the most distinguished names in classical ballet from conjuring up their own images of devadāsīs and presenting them on the stage.
Thanks to travelers’ tales and other writings, India appeared to Europeans as a fabled land, steeped in mysteries, and abounding in stirring narratives of love, hate, devotion, and valor. At a time when the real devadāsīs were scorned at home, their image functioned as an icon of Indian dance in the West.
This according to “Devadasis in tights and ballet slippers, what?” by Mohan Khokar (Sruti 154 [July 1997] pp. 21–26); this periodical, along with many others, is covered in our new RILM Abstracts of Music Literature with Full Text collection.
Above and below, excerpts from what has proved to be the most enduring example, La bayadère by Ludwig Minkus and Marius Petipa.
Though Greek people rarely perform it among themselves in their own country, where the dance is mainly a tourist attraction, the internationally renowned syrtaki choreography by Giorgos Provias from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek functions as a symbol of Greek identity worldwide.
In the last decade syrtaki has drawn further international attention through its documentation by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest chain dance performance—twice, in 2007 in Cyprus and in 2012 in Greece. The enduring popularity of this international dance phenomenon engages the concepts of cosmopolitanism, globalization, and urbanization.
This according to “For the syrtaki dance once more: Cosmopolitanism, globalization and urbanization in continuum” by Maria I. Koutsouba, an essay included in Dance, senses, urban contexts: Dance and the senses—Dancing and dance cultures in urban contexts (Herzogenrath: Shaker Verlag, 2017, pp. 173–83).
Above and below, the classic film sequence.
BONUS: The 2012 record-holding performance.
In his De natura animalium, Claudius Aelianus described the training of dancing elephants.
“To begin with, [the trainer] introduced them in a quiet, gentle fashion to his instructions, supplying them with delicacies and the most appetizing food, varied so as to allure and entice them into abandoning all trace of ferocity…So what they learned was not to go wild at the sound of the flutes (auloi), not to be alarmed at the beating of drums (tympanon), to be charmed by the pipe (syrinx), and to endure the beat of marching feet and the singing of crowds.”
Noting that elephants have a keen sense of music and an aptitude for learning, Aelian reported that they successfully mastered “the movements of a chorus, the steps of a dance, how to march in time, how to enjoy the sound of auloi, and how to distinguish different notes.”
This according to “Vox naturae: Music as human-animal communication in the context of animal training in ancient Rome” by Rodney Martin Cross (Greek and Roman musical studies V/2  pp. 147–58).
Below, two elephants enjoying a serenade.
Related article: The Thai Elephant Orchestra
In 1988 the U.S. Congress convened four panels of witnesses for and against proposed legislation that would designate square dance as the National American Folk Dance.
Leaders of the nationwide network of recreational clubs that perform what is generally referred to as modem Western square dance campaigned for the bill’s passage, presenting numerous petitions with thousands of signatures gathered from their membership; opponents included recognized African American, Hispanic American, and Native American dance performers, as well as professional folklorists and one square dance caller not affiliated with the sponsoring organizations.
Proponents of the legislation cited the historical depth of square dance in the U.S.—“This form of dance alone can claim a development from the earliest days of our nation, through expansion of our population across the land”—and cited the genre’s association with “old-fashioned values” rooted in the “melting-pot of the dances which our ancestors brought with them when they settled in this nation.”
Witnesses for the opposition noted the absence of people of color from this picture, and generally argued against the whole idea of designating a national dance—“I can’t see how any one dance could be singled out as our National Folk Dance when we are a pluralistic society, a land of geographic, racial, cultural, and religious differences,” testified a representative of the Makah people. “I believe choosing one, any one, would give birth to feelings of resentment and animosity.”
Although the bill was defeated, similar debates continue to this day.
This according to “Reflections on the hearing to designate the square dance as the American folk dance of the United States: Cultural politics and an American vernacular dance form” by Colin Quigley (Yearbook for traditional music XXXIII  pp. 145–57). Below, Bob Dalsemer, the one square dance caller who testified for the opposition.