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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Perusing Poetics: Plato is Annoying, and Other Reasons I Want to Apologize to Poets

You may or may not know this, but this blog was originally a poetry blog. DO NOT GO BACK INTO THE TAGS AND FIND IT. It was bad and it’s all really old now, like pre-college, beginning of high school aged. But I just wanted to preface this discussion with that.

So this week’s readings for my Poetics class was Plato’s Republic, Book X and Aristotle’s Poetics. If you haven’t read them, don’t worry. Basically the point of them–especially Plato–is to crap on the life and the work of the poet.

Plato has this point where he says poetry corrupts people, emotion is bad, and poets should be confined to hymns and praises of the gods. Aristotle is a little better, because technically he’s confirming that tragic poetry is better than epic poetry, but basically it’s all about how poetry is only good if it conforms to this little proper box. (Yes, anyone who’s read these is probably spitting fire because of over-simplification. Bear with me.)

What’s important–and frustrating–is the effect that this kind of philosophy has had on poets since Plato decided to open his mouth. You can Google lists of pieces titled, in essence, “In Defense of Poetry” or “Apologies for Poetry.” It’s ridiculous, especially considering poetry’s past power.

Confused about what I mean? Well, what do you think of poetry right now? If one person says they’re a novelist and one person says they’re a poet, who do you rank on top? Poets have been characterized as goths at coffee houses (perfectly valid life choice for poets, but not the only one) or cryptics saying nothing in the media, and that certainly adds to the effect.

I know I’m not a poet. I’ve written more recent poetry for school and I’m basically the kind of poseur that Plato would like to kick out of his Republic. I’m aware of that. That’s why I’m not a poet. But, thanks to school, I have studied multiple forms inside and out in accordance with both my English and Writing degrees and I RESPECT POETS SO MUCH. I can barely rhyme let alone formulate a sestina (look it up – the form will make your head hurt).

I write short stories and novels. This is a kind of writing I understand the conventions of. You can master a basic plot pretty quickly. Poetry? Dear Lord. I’ve studied Shakespearan sonnets since grade school and when I was required to write one for class I STILL ripped the end-rhymes from a sonnet Shakespeare had already written because I couldn’t get the rhyming down.

My point is: I never thought I’d be disappointed in someone like Plato, who I’ve been told to laud as a philosopher since PBSKids morning TV shows. I understand that there is a certain time period that he’s writing from and all that, so maybe it’s more correct to say that no one has thought to update their opinion much since then. Poets remain a feature of the classroom: an annoying period of English class or a specialized class in college. They aren’t all that mainstream and they certainly don’t get the buzz of NYT bestselling novelists.

The one thing they do have going for them is their community. When I blogged poetry, as bad as it was, I was welcomed without a second thought into the poetry blogging community with open arms. I have yet to have an online experience since then that has felt as natural and warm as that. In the real world there are also magazines, retreats, etc, that might not (always) be big, but they are proud.

So you tell me. Am I crazy? What do you think of poetry? There’s a comment section for a reason! (Extra points go any comment-writer who responds in some form of verse.)