Gena will be the mod for the WisCon panel “Embodying Resistance: Warrior Fantasies and Dancing into Danger.” Here are some of her notes.
When is the dancing body a signifier of resistance in SF/F? Three recent projects—Sucker Punch, Janelle Monae’s The ArchAndroid,and The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers (LXD) feature dancers as ciphers, funnels for both audience response and emotional thrust of the narrative. In Monae’s “Tightrope” and in Sucker Punch, dance is an escape from the control of the asylum. In LXD, dance is, explicitly, a weapon—it summons and controls the ra, a spiritual force with the power to manipulate the physical, and becomes the visual link for the kind of violence common to “our” world and this one. This panel talks about the use of dance in SF/F stories of resistance and survival, paying particular attention to its use in stories featuring female characters and characters of color.
What I wanted to touch on as a panelist was the idea that physical prowess and control of one’s body and space (and access to them) as an expression of empowerment and power is inherently a radical act for women and PoC, even when not explicitly militarized by similarly physically demanding activities (martial arts, various kinds of sports and professional athleticism, etc.). And how do we, as consumers and producers of SF/F/H (and for those of us who identify as female and/or PoC, also members of that radicalized community), express or interpret that in that genre’s works?
In Sucker Punch, the women in the 1950s asylum retreat into the psychological constructions of Baby Doll, where in the first level, an interpretation of the horrors being visited upon them, they are made to dance in a brothel and be prostituted out; however, despite being sexually commodified, Baby Doll’s dancing is transcendent, dangerously distracting to the women’s male “patrons” while their imposed invisibility in being treated as objects is turned against their captors in a daring plan to escape– likewise, the transcendent nature of Baby Doll’s dancing is such that it takes her and the other inmates into another psychic “level” wherein they have become warriors, still facing some of the dangers of their everyday experiences, but in this case explicitly militarized, where the women reimagine themselves as powerful figures of the war that their existence already is. Is it a radical act to fight rape culture with one’s own body? Is use of one’s body as a tool for survival radical, and how and why is that different from imposed views of a person’s body as an object? Is it a radical act to deny access to one’s own body, or to work within structures of that culture and what it expects from a female body and/or female body of color through subversive means? Why dance, and why warfare? If dance is the feminine counterpart to the masculine war, can dance ever be seen on its own as a similarly threatening, radically militaristic and politicized act?
In Tightrope, Cindi Mayweather (the persona adopted by Janelle Monáe) has been sent back in time, also to the 1950s, where her radical takes on race and gender politics (as shown through the other songs on the ArchAndroid album) have her committed to an all-Black insane asylum, where dance is forbidden as a form of performing magic. Cindi very rapidly incites something of a song-and-dance riot, where she realizes that dancing has given her the power to walk through walls. In what ways are certain forms of dance stigmatized? In what ways are they racialized? In what ways does that social stigma relate directly to racial/ethnic connotations of the style of dance and/or music in question? In what ways do we as people perform our racial identities, and in what ways do we as dancers perform our own identities in our work, in spite of or enhanced by choice of dance style? In what ways is mysticism assigned to the human body, the female body, and the body of color, and what those bodies can do? In what ways is mysticism assigned to autonomy over one’s body and what it can/can’t and will/won’t do?
I’m not as familiar with LXD. Still, dance as having the means to enact change upon one’s surroundings and the world, and dance-battle as battle-battle, and the abilities related to dance that the members of the LXD have through perfecting their art, are commonly seen in martial-arts and military media, where one character (with or without a team), armed only with their own body, their own selves, and some perseverance and ingenuity take on an insurmountable foe and… surmount them. Does the presence of male dancers in LXD and/or the variety of styles of dance exhibited (and their perceived “aggressiveness,” and what indicates that “aggression”) make LXD’s use of dance as a weapon more or less believable? Contrasting with Sucker Punch, does the lack of a “shift” from the “softness” of dance to the “hardness” of weapon-enhanced battle help or hinder the storytelling? Contrasting with Tightrope, are the “rules” of power regarding what one does with one’s body more or less believable in LXD? Whereas Sucker Punch and Tightrope are about resistance and escape, LXD is about the formation of a dancing “army” of sorts, actively seeking battle with evil dancing forces to maintain a balance in the world; LXD shows dance as having the potential for negative force, as well as being a tool specifically chosen for use by the League to fight their enemies. The effects their dancing produces bring to mind the classic anime DragonBall and DragonBall Z, but how does LXD compare visually and on the level of how compelling the storytelling becomes to the hypermasculine world visualized by Akira Toriyama? Does something like Tom Yung Goong or Ong Bak have a bigger audience than something like LXD, which presents a similar variety of fight styles and villainous scope?
At what point does dance become fighting, and at what point does fighting become dance?
What are you guys’ thoughts? What would you like to cover during the panel? And what concerns do you have about topics that you’d like your mod to be made aware of?