The Anatomy of a DOS-D

It’s been over a month now since I last checked in here on DOS-D, and much has transpired since then.  I did indeed finish my conference talk for the Society of Dance History Scholars/Congress of Research on Dance, flew to the midwest, gave said talk despite a major power outage in the middle of my presentation, and had meetings with each of my committee members.

Of course, the difficulty in meeting with each member separately is the high likelihood that some of their thoughts and suggestions will clash with one another, so I’ve since been trying to resolve some of the conflicts in these suggestions.  BUT, I want to record the conceptual progress I’ve made before I get too caught up in archival research (what follows is probably boring nitty gritty for most readers, so be warned):

  • The main goal of the dissertation (at this juncture) is to document the shifts in staging race and dance on screen at the crucial juncture of the postwar moment, and how this affected male ‘star’ dancers in particular as a result of important shifts in gender and race dynamics of the period that were both much bigger than dance and also being worked out in front of the nation through dance (among other means).
    • There are several other issues bound up in this like differential media technologies, class, and age/generation which will hopefully get traced out (or at least wrapped in) along the way
  • My original interest in the symbiotic relationship between dance cultures and screen cultures remains–there’s clearly a sort of push/pull happening between the two, in which each side wants to blame the other for ruining or cheapening it while also being dependent on it for success, popularity, profit, etc.  Television was concerned about Elvis’s pelvis, of course, and dance was concerned that its Hollywood arm consisted mainly of cheap spectacle.  And yet, even Ed Sullivan knew that Elvis was the key to the ratings jackpot and even Dance Observer admitted that Hollywood is part of what made American dance so innovative.  This invisible exchange needs to be made evident in my diss.
    • That being said, maybe one of the key shifts for me to track is precisely the shift from film to TV (and in Elvis’s case, from TV to film) — maybe medium specificity in this case accounts for more than immediately meets the eye.

Regrettably, I think I’m going to have to move away from including ‘regular people’ (amateur hours & teen dance shows) to make more room for focusing on the big names who, by virtue of being big names, were the bodies across which the most aggressive representational rhetoric was etched out.

Now we get to the hardest part, the part I’m still struggling with and probably will continue to struggle with for some time: organization.  While two of my three committee members thought that the revised plans I’d brought to them seemed much better and more manageable than the initial prospectus, all three offered a slightly different take on what they envision going forward.  In basic terms, these options are:

  1. Structure by figure, and cut out a couple.  So:
    1. The Nicholas Brothers
    2. Gene Kelly
    3. Elvis Presley
  2. Structure by period/media arrangement, and bring the cut fellas back in.  So:
    1. The Nicholas Brothers & Bill Robinson (mainly film)
    2. Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly (film –> TV)
    3. Elvis Presley (TV –> film)
  3. Structure by concept, and maybe bring women & femininity back in.  So (roughly…):
    1. Dance vs. Screen Cultures
    2. Race & Gender
    3. Class & Generation
    4. Film vs. TV

Well, I’m still digesting all this.  I have plans to reach out to a potential fourth committee member who’s currently working on Bill Robinson.  I’ve downloaded Scrivener and imported the images from my digging through 8 years of Dance Observer archives (1934-1941, which is really too early but I wanted to check for precedents) and 2 years of Dance Magazine (1951-1952).  I’ve started a spreadsheet of archives in the LA area whose written records hold promise for me.  AND I’ve begun compiling a list of relevant television episodes for each of the figures listed above, as well as places where I can actually view these episodes.

Gene Kelly for Capezio shoes in a 1952 Dance Magazine

Gene Kelly for Capezio shoes in a 1952 Dance Magazine

So, progress has been made, and I’ll hopefully accomplish a bit more before the holidays so that I’m ready to actually visit all the necessary brick & mortar archives in the new year.