Perusing Poetics: What Happens When I Break (Dance)

Alright, so here’s the thing, folks. I’m not having the best brain week. It’s Wednesday and I’m already shot to all hell. So this is what happens when I break down/dance.

Let me back up here. For class this week we read an article by Susan Stewart about “Graffiti as Crime and Art” and also this fabulous documentary called Style Wars. (You can watch it on YouTube here.) These are both fabulous–especially Style Wars–and deserve more than I’m going to give them, but hey. I haven’t collapsed once this semester (unlike last spring) and I’d like to keep it that way. Anyways. Here’s the quote from Steward that interested me for this blog post:

“…we should note that the function of individuation, stylization, and uniqueness would also seem to be served by the appropriation of the metaphor of the robot in both graffiti and it’s sister art, break dancing.”

Stewart here makes reference to the “freeze-frame stopping found in break dancing” and the “mixture of body movement and the imitation of mechanical action.”

The former dancer that I am, I departed entirely from the focus on graffiti (whoops) to the mentions of break dancing in both the article and the documentary. When I presented on this homework in class (for forty five effing minutes, why did no one stop me) I may or may not have used videos from the Step Up movie franchise to illustrate the relationship of body movement and machinery, as well as the commercialization of hip hop culture. In particular, I used this dance from Step Up All In:

I also, however, showed the final dance from the original Step Up movie in comparison, and was shocked at the stark contrast between the way that the two of them looked. I began to look at other dances from throughout the five movies, and realized that the more commercial the movies got, the more obvious the connection to machinery and robotics. More fascinatingly, a lot of this connection ceased to show up specifically in the dancing. Like a lot of other representations of hip hop cultures in the movies, the connection was bastardized and linked to something other than body movement–something Aristotle would call “spectacle.” It really strikes me sometimes, in the later movies, the emphasis really isn’t on dancing in these so-called dance movies at all.

Want to see what I’m talking about? WAIT NO MORE.

1. When the most technical thing in the movie was the fact that the music was supplied by a pit orchestra AND synthesizers and people actually danced: Step Up

2. Look! They used technology to record DANCING: Step Up 2: The Streets

3. THE MOVIE IN WHICH TECHNOLOGY F*CKED UP EVERYTHING (by which I mean they made this one in 3D and everything is 3D vision fodder but specifically check out those suits at 8:45): Step Up 3D

4. The movie that did this awesome thing by using robotic dance styles to characterize the corporate world but also like totally copped out in its finale dance by using cheap contraptions with trampolines and harnesses for wow effect: Step Up 4 Revolution

5. The movie that had earlier dances as non-dancy as the first one I showed and yet also had this steam-punk themed ending with some dancing but also crazy effects, fire and other nonsense: Step Up 5 All In

Personally, in movie quality, I felt like it’s all downhill from 1-3 and then 4 and 5 make an attempt to be better. It directly correlates to what I’ve just laid out about the dances. Coincidence? Perhaps. But only if you believe in such a thing.

I hope you have enjoyed this blog post brain break. I did!

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