Queer Kinaesthesia: On the dance floor at gay and lesbian dance parties, Sydney 1994-1998

queerkinaesthesiaJonathan Bollen, PhD Thesis, University of Western Sydney, 1999.

What is happening on the dance floor at gay and lesbian dance parties? What are lesbians and gay men doing when they dance? This thesis presents a project in performance research that takes as its locus of investigation the annualised dance parties that have been produced by gay and lesbian organisations in Sydney since the early 1980s. In particular, it focuses on the largest of the dance parties, Mardi Gras Party and Sleaze Ball, during a period of research from 1994 to 1998.

Drawing performance studies, cultural studies, and queer theory into interdisciplinary alignment, the thesis begins at the intersection of two historical trajectories: social dance pedagogy and modern homosexual definition trace asymmetrical articulations of discursive regulation and practical resistance that establish a core problematic for the project. Detecting these articulations at work in demarcating dance parties as escapades from everyday banality, the thesis musters resources for an investigation that would attend to the actuality of dance floor practice, the material sociality of moving bodies, and the performativity of kinaesthetic experience.

Harnessing these resources, the thesis aims at investigating how dance parties sustain the ongoing salience of dancing for gay men and lesbians in Sydney. On the basis of ethnographic research, performance documentation, and movement analysis, the investigation pursues an analytical trajectory across the making of dance parties within a subcultural scene, to the doing of dance parties as performance events, and then onto the dance floor as a site for performative practice. Responding to a persistent debate about straights at the parties, the analyses register the ongoing salience of dancing as an etiquette of doing dance party as it is done, as a queer kinaesthesia sustained on the dance floor, and as an occasional community danced into existence.

The thesis attests to the pertinence of analysing movement. It analyses the mobility of practice, rather than its textual residue; the kinaesthesia of performative identities, rather than their morphological contours; and the choreography of community, rather than its substantive contents. Recognising that queer theory too has an interest in movement, in proliferating metaphors for the mobile excesses of queer identifications and desires, the thesis argues in conclusion that such metaphors represent imaginative flights of fancy to the extent that they fail to grasp the corporeality of kinaesthetic experience.


  • Title, abstract, contents
  • Chapter 1 – Introduction: A dance with no name
  • Chapter 2 – Getting home, or what counts as real
  • Chapter 3 – On the scene
  • Chapter 4 – Doing dance party
  • Chapter 5 – Performativity on the dance floor
  • Chapter 6 – Conclusion: Choreographing desire
  • References


Related publications

  • Bollen, J. (2008) ‘Dressing up and growing up: rehearsals on the threshold of intelligibility’ in Judith Butler in Conversation: Analysing the Texts and Talk of Everyday Life, ed. Bronwyn Davies, London & New York: Routledge.
  • Bollen, J. (2005) ‘How to stand out on a dance floor’, Critical Issues 9: Exploding Dandy, Sydney: Artspace.
  • Bollen, J. (2001) ‘Queer kinaesthesia: Performativity on the dance floor’ in Dancing Desires: Choreographing Sexualities On and Off the Stage, ed. Jane Desmond, Society for Dance History Scholars & University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Bollen, J. (2000) ‘Animated suspension: Moving bodies and the choreography of community’ in Body Show/s: Australian Sightings of Live Performance, ed. Peta Tait, Amsterdam: Rodopi.
  • Bollen, J. (1997) ‘‘What a queen’s gotta do’: Queer performativity and the rhetorics of performance’, Australasian Drama Studies (Lesbian / Gay / Queer Theatre and Performance), 31 (Oct): 106 – 123.
  • Bollen, J. (1996) ‘Sexing the dance at Sleaze Ball 1994’, TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, 40/3 (T151, Fall): 166 – 191. Winning entry, 1995 TDR Student Essay Contest.
  • Bollen, J. (1996) ‘The parties are for us’, Xtext (Crossing Performances), 1 (Aug): 48 – 53 (UNSW).

Further research

Movement and matter – notes on dancing, bodies and desire

Sexual choreographies – collaborative research on gay sex and the politics of affect