When Sue Turnbull (a scholar who has written very interesting work on murder mysteries, their female readers and writers) asked me to be the outside reader on a PhD dissertation being written by one of her students at LaTrobe University (in Melbourne, Australia), on contemporary swing dance, I was resistant at first, insisting that I knew little or nothing about the scholarly literature around dance. Sue pushed me harder, suggesting that this project had much more to do with my own work than I might imagine, and being a trusting sort, I agreed to read the work, satisfied in having made my own lack of credentials clear, intrigued by why she was pushing so hard, and a bit pleased to be reading something on swing since I am a closset enthusiast of the new Swing revival (though I certainly can’t do the Lindy Hop to save my life.)
Thus, Sam(antha) Carroll entered my life. Carroll’s dissertation did indeed fascinate me — it is frankly some of the best work by a graduate student in cultural studies I have read in some time. She draws not just on the literature in performance studies on popular dance traditions in America but it also shows a deep familiarity with cultural studies work on fan appropriations and transformations on media content as well as work in digital studies on virtual and online communities. She captures the world of swing dance culture — from the inside out — and traces it across multiple media channels, showing how their lives online are connecting to their physical encounters in geographic space, and especially exploring how they trade video clips of obscure dance performances which become core resources in the development of their own performance repertoires. And, hey, the dissertation came with its own dvd of amazing clips — and you could dance to it!
I felt that some of her work would be of great interest to readers of this blog given our ongoing discussions of various fan cultures, of the ways digital media is transforming traditional cultural practices, and of the poetics and politics of remixing media content. (And to add to my pleasure, she writes about Hellzapoppin’, a much beloved film in my household, and one which I regularly assign to graduate students in our program.) Even if, like me, you think this may be outside your field of interest, think again and give it a closer look.
The following entry was written specifically for this blog by Sam Carroll. I asked her to give us some more biographical data and here’s what she wrote:
Sam Carroll has just completed her Phd at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia. In that doctoral thesis she discussed contemporary swing dancers and their use of digital media in embodied practice – or, in other words, what dancers do with computers. In addition to writing about dancing (and computers), Sam also likes dancing very much. And watching footage of dancing on her computer. She began learning lindy hop in 1999 in Brisbane, but found the swing dancing community an excellent complement to academic life when she moved to Melbourne in 2001 to pursue a postgraduate degree – less writing, more dancing. Sam is now trying to learn as many authentic jazz routines from the 1930s and 40s as possible. Her progress is more a performance of fandom than an embodiment of elite fan knowledge.
THE FOLLOWING WAS WRITTEN BY SAM CARROLL
This is a clip of the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers dancing a Big Apple routine (choreographed by Frankie Manning) in the 1939 film Keep Punchin’. In the last section of this clip they dance lindy hop on a ‘social dance floor’.
And here’s footage of dancers in the US dancing the same routine in 2006.
If you follow this link you can listen to the Solomon Douglas Swinged playing the same song on their recent album.
Both dancers and musicians have painstakingly transcribed what they see and hear in that original 1939 clip.