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Find Your Places, Please: Gender in 21st Century U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dance Practices

  • Author(s): Machin, Denise
  • Advisor(s): Kraut, Anthea
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

This dissertation explores contemporary amateur ballroom dance practices in the U.S., paying special attention to the uses of gender. I focus on amateur ballroom dancers associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and queer communities to see the different ways gender in employed through ballroom dance. I argue that these communities both re-inscribed and challenge gender through different interpretations of ballroom dance. In chapter one, I situate the debate over how to define a couple on the dancefloor within the larger political landscape around the issue of marriage equality. This chapter also provides background information on gender studies and Mormon studies to argue that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and LGBTQIA ballroom dancers are using the performance of ballroom dance to promote their respective conceptions of partnerships and gender performance not only in dance, but also in general. Chapter two provides an in depth look into the history of dance in the LDS community before turning to ethnographic research on ballroom dance practices at Brigham Young University and Utah Valley University, arguing that the division of religious roles by gender in Mormonism is echoed in LDS practices of ballroom dance. Chapter three explains the specific aesthetic choices in partnering, costuming, and dance technique that are utilized by same-gender ballroom dancers to (re)define gender before teasing out the different visions for same-gender ballroom dance in the U.S. This chapter argues that despite the active attempts at inclusivity in this community, binary language and a fear of femininity still results in exclusionary practices. The fourth and final chapter examines the position of ballroom dance within the field of dance studies, arguing that histories of appropriation and assumptions about gender practices in ballroom dance contribute to its middlebrow status in dance studies. This middlebrow status is explored though ethnographic research at Pomona College, a school where the ballroom dance program is quite popular yet marginalized with relationship to Dance by being located in the Physical Education Department. Overall, this dissertation adds to the existing body of research on ballroom dance, problematizing the stereotype that ballroom is only heteronormative, through showing the ways ballroom dancers both uphold and challenged gender roles.

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