A semiotics of sex roles in French society was played out in 18th- and 19th-century ballet by projecting it onto imaginary Native American societies.
In the 18th century, sauvage culture became a canvas for the projection of utopian sentiment with subtle social texturing, allowing the expression of fantasies of less restrictive sexual roles; in the 19th century, sauvagerie became grotesque and increasingly unrefined, shifting the emphasis from cultural to racial difference and affirming the status quo.
This according to “Sauvages, sex roles, and semiotics: Representations of Native Americans in the French ballet, 1736–1837” by Joellen A. Meglen (Dance chronicle XXIII/2  pp. 87–132; XXIII/3  pp. 275–320).
Above and below, Rameau’s Les Indes galantes (1735).
Exotic dance is a theatrical art form that communicates within its own aesthetic. It is a multisensory nonverbal performance in which audience members may become active communicators.
But eroticism unleashes passions that defy the dictates of social conservatives, who have stoked public outrage and incited local and state governments to impose onerous restrictions on clubs with the intent of dismantling the exotic dance industry.
While the fight happens at the local level, it is part of a national campaign to regulate sexuality and punish those who do not adhere to conservative values. Ultimately, the separation of church and state is under siege and U.S. civil liberties—free speech, women’s rights, and free enterprise—are at stake.
This according to Naked truth: Strip clubs, democracy, and a Christian Right by Judith Lynne Hanna (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012). Below, exotic dancers in Las Vegas talk about their lives and work.
Related article: Subversive belly dancing
The role of the belly dancer at elite weddings in Cairo illuminates Egyptian attitudes toward sexuality.
The dancer plays on ambiguous evaluations, using the wit associated with baladī-class women to subvert patriarchal constructions of sexuality. Song lyrics, dance forms, and musical styles are all important aspects of raqṣ baladī.
Using wit, gestures, and the raqṣ baladī genre of dance and music, the performer Fifi Abdou entertains through an elaborate joke form in which she deconstructs and reconstructs sexualized assumptions about Egyptian dance and herself as a sexualized dancer.
This according to “‘Oh boy, you salt of the earth’: Outwitting patriarchy in raqs baladi” by Cassandra Lorius (Popular music XV/3 [October 1996] pp. 285–298). Above and below, historic performances by Ms. Abdou.
Related article: Exotic dance and civil liberties
Wagner’s obsession with sexuality prefigured the composition of operas such as Tannhäuser, Die Walküre, Tristan und Isolde, and Parsifal. Daring to represent erotic stimulation, passionate ecstasy, and the torment of sexual desire, Wagner sparked intense reactions from figures like Baudelaire, Clara Schumann, Nietzsche, and Nordau, whose verbal tributes and censures disclose what was transmitted when music represented sex.
Wagner himself saw the cultivation of an erotic high style as central to his art, especially after devising an anti-philosophical response to Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of sexual love. A reluctant eroticist, Wagner masked his personal compulsion to cross-dress in pink satin and drench himself in rose perfumes while simultaneously incorporating his silk fetish and love of floral scents into his librettos. His affection for dominant females and surprising regard for homosexual love likewise enable some striking portraits in his operas.
In the end, Wagner’s achievement was to have fashioned an oeuvre which explored his sexual yearnings as much as it conveyed—as never before—how music could act on erotic impulse.
This according to Wagner and the erotic impulse by Laurence Dreyfus (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010). Below, Kirsten Flagstad’s historic recording of the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.
Of the many Hollywood films made about Africa, the Tarzan films are among the most influential in creating stereotyped notions of African peoples, geography, and social organization.
An examination of the portrayal of Africa and Africans in Cedric Gibbons’s Tarzan and his mate (1934) provides a window into how music has been used to generate these stereotypes and calls into question the degree to which these (mis)conceptions, under the same or different guises, have survived into the 21st century.
This according to “When hearts beat like native drums: Music and the sexual dimensions of the notions of savage and civilized in Tarzan and his mate, 1934” by Clara Henderson (Africa today XLVIII/4 [winter 2001] pp. 90–124).
Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and the apes, the first Tarzan story, is 100 years old this year! Above, an early dust jacket for this classic; below, the original 1934 trailer for Tarzan and his mate.
BONUS: The film’s notorious river scene, for which the Olympic swimmer Josephine McKim temporarily replaced Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.
Like real rock guitar playing, air guitar—miming electric guitar playing without an instrument—is heavily informed by gendered practices in rock, where the electric guitar functions as a signifier of masculine power and implied sexual prowess, and performing on it involves symbolic aggression and dominance.
Women air guitarists appropriate and disrupt rock culture’s consensus, undermining and subverting its gendered performance. This gender bending emphasizes women’s critique of rock culture’s masculinist attitude while asserting female power through the nonthreatening manipulation of an imaginary phallic symbol.
This according to “The girl is a boy is a girl: Gender representations in the Gizzy Guitar 2005 Air Guitar Competition” by Hélène Laurin (Journal of popular music studies XXI/3 (September 2009) pp. 284–303. Above and below, the multi-award-winning Nanami “Seven Seas” Nagura.
Related article: Sexual attraction by genre
In 1882 Sadiq Muhammad Khan Abbasi IV, Nawāb of Bahawalpur, anonymously commissioned a bed in rosewood covered with about a third of a ton of chased and engraved sterling silver from La Maison Christofle in Paris. The bedposts were four life-size automatons, nude (though bewigged) female figures representing European types, powered by four crank-wound spring mechanisms in their pedestals.
Wires ran from these springs to a music box under the bed. Downward pressure on the center of the mattress activated the music box and caused the bedpost-women to begin shifting their eyes and fanning and whisking in time to the music (an unidentified excerpt from Gounod’s Faust). The performance lasted 30 minutes. A watercolor and several photos taken in 1882 for the Christofle firm are the only evidence of the bed, whose present whereabouts are unknown.
This according to “Asleep with painted ladies” by Carl A. Skoggard (Nest X  pp. 100–105). Below, Renée Fleming sings “Oh Dieu! Que de bijoux” (Jewel song), an aptly themed candidate for the Faust excerpt in question.
Related article: The Sultan’s pipe organ
The Ewe of Ghana have a long history of incorporating musical elements from other cultures into their traditions.
Recent developments among the Tagborlo family in the master drumming for agbadza funeral dancing (above), influenced to some extent by contacts with Western popular music, involve humor (including graphic sexual jokes), taunts, and quotations from popular songs in a manner resembling sampling procedures in rap music. These innovations are entirely within the tradition—the basic rhythmic structure, cultural context, and instrumentation remain the same.
This according to “’My mother has a television, does yours?’ Transformation and secularization in an Ewe funeral drum tradition” by James Burns (Oral tradition XX/2 [October 2005] pp. 300–319). Below, agbadza drumming and dancing at a funeral in Atsiekpui, Ghana; the master drummer on the far left conveys verbal messages through references to speech rhythms and tones.
Related post: Dagomba dance-drumming
Filed under Africa, Humor
The universal availability and divergent imagery of coffee in people’s lives has been expressed in popular music more often than many of us realize. “You’re the cream in my coffee: A discography of java jive” by B. Lee Cooper and William Schurk (Popular music and society XXIII/2 [summer 1999] pp. 91–100) lists over 100 coffee-related popular songs from the 1920s to the 1990s. The songs are grouped both alphabetically and by subject; topics include addictive stimulants, commercial jingles, companionship and socialization, and sexual metaphors.
Click here to hear the Ink Spots performing their 1940 hit Java jive by Ben Oakland and Milton Drake.