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Race-ing Technology in Dance

  • Author(s): Bowker, Kelly
  • Advisor(s): Kraut, Anthea
  • et al.

This dissertation interrogates the racial ideologies embedded in and deployed by technologies as they appear in concert dance, popular/social dance, dance video games and on screens, via music videos and commercials. In my first chapter I explore how queer white modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham and predominantly Black hip hop DJs justified their own technological accomplishments by drawing on Cartesian language. Their own self-fashioning/self-representation has since been discussed by scholars who picked up on this Cartesian line, emphasizing the “mental” accomplishments of these artists, often at the cost of ignoring the role of embodiment within their creative processes. In my second chapter, I examine the dance video game Dance Central, which translates movement from physical bodies to virtual and back again via surveillance technologies. However, because these technologies were not designed to track all body parts and actions equally, the game rewards whitened movements and erases/fails to recognize the Africanist aesthetics of its original choreographers. My third chapter analyzes how filmic techniques have been used to represent bodies and technologies through car commercials and music videos. While some of the commercials I examine engage in traditional conflations of Black bodies and machines, I also explore examples where Afrofuturism opens up alternative imaginings. By moving across these varied sites, I argue that ideologies of race and technology impact each other at every point where they intersect, from design, production, and practice to retrospective analyses of their significance.

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