In 1978 Australia’s music television show, Countdown, hosted a disco dancing contest. Staged on a perspex dance floor lit with coloured lights from beneath, the contestants danced to songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and a large cut-out figure of John Travolta, striking that archetypal disco pose, presided over the event. Predictably enough, the winning contestants were the couple from Sydney who performed the most recognizably accomplished and rigorously choreographed imitation of disco dancing, Saturday Night Fever style. Their prize was a return trip to the United States to meet the Bee Gees, the featured artists on the movie soundtrack. But before they left they were invited to draw a winner from a barrel of entries in an audience competition. The lucky viewer’s prize? A video cassette machine – not only the latest in home entertainment technology but a handy piece of equipment for a budding disco dancer eager to learn the latest dance moves as seen on TV.
Looking back from this moment of disco dissemination to the dance crazes of the sixties and to the Charleston and the Foxtrot earlier in the century, this illustrated paper explores strategies for documenting and mediating movement in the history of social dance pedagogy. Surveying a collection of dance manuals and drawing on archival footage, the paper identifies shifts in pedagogical strategies from follow-the-footsteps diagrams to freeze-frame photo-strips as indicative of ‘kinaesthetic cross-over’, a process whereby Anglo-European social dancing was infused with the movement qualities of African-American dance. The paper argues that the cross-over of an African-American kinaesthetic coincided with the mediation of an ‘animatic’ conception of movement as a sequence of static images which accompanied the proliferation of photography, cinema and television. The paper demonstrates how moving image technologies animated the cultural politics of social dancing during the twentieth century.
Published as Bollen, J. (2007) ‘As Seen On TV: Kinaesthetic cross-over and the animation of social dance pedagogy’ in Multimedia Histories: From the Magic Lantern to the Internet, eds James Lyons & John Plunkett, Exeter: University of Exeter Press.
Trailer for Twist (1992), directed by Ronn Man, Sphinx Productions, Canada.
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