Coming to Terms with ThE American Smooth
In the final chapter of Glamour Addiction…, Juliet McMains proposes various potential “antidotes to glamour”: modes of operation for the practice of American Dancesport to exist beyond the capitalistic confinements of the ballroom dance industry. While McMains discusses “expanding representations of gender and sexuality,” in Glamour Addiction, this discussion does not include the formation of Queer-friendly Dancesport spaces–the existence of which disrupts the very premise of the project, and I argue, deserves consideration as another possible antidote.
McMains cites two youth programs, both providing increased access to dance education through models that prioritize more ethical dissemination of practice than models reproduced by the Glamour Machine. Additionally and importantly, she notes:
“The efforts of some DanceSport competitors to borrow steps and rhythms from Latin dance practices outside the ballroom industry usually result in further colonization of the forms. A cue might be taken from the salsa dance industry, which enriches its own tradition of Latin fusion by inviting Afro-Cuban rumba artists to perform and give classes beside the salsa dancers at congresses.”
And while that cue could have been taken at the time it was proposed in 2006 all the way up to the time of this writing, the Glamour Machine continues chugging along without much consideration for the First Peoples of the dances it dances. To submit that the forms are being colonized could easily lead to questions about whether and how they might be Decolonized. And to those questions, it might serve us (colonizers) to consider the significant and vital scholarship of Eve Tuck (Unangax̂, enrolled member of the Aleut Community of St. Paul Island, Alaska) and K. Wayne Yang. I have come to view American Dancesport as a form of “external colonialism,” as Tuck & Yang describe it, denoting:
“the expropriation of fragments of Indigenous worlds, animals, plants and human beings, extracting them in order to transport them to - and build the wealth, the privilege, or feed the appetites of - the colonizers, who get marked as the first world.”
But as the title of their article tells us explicitly: “Decolonization is not a metaphor.” While the continuing circumstance of colonization can indeed beget extractive behavior on the part of the colonizer–in this case, the extraction of cultural capital–addressing the behavior does not address the fact that the enterprise continues to thrive on stolen land. For as deeply as a white-settler (like myself) may want to consider their position in the colonial project, it may also serve us to consider our deeper motivations–are we seeking absolution? Might our bright ideas about how to take part in decolonial discourse constitute “settler move(s) to innocence,” as Tuck & Yang describe it? Is it even appropriate to think about the ballroom dancing industry in the context of decolonial discourse? What does any of this have to do with the rematriation of Land, for example? At present: not much at all. Not as far as I can tell.
In her final analysis, Juliet McMains states:
“DanceSport fans may be indignant that I have focused so much attention on the negative
aspects of the industry, but my intent is not to bring it down. On the contrary, I hope that by drawing critical attention to the history of ballroom dance as a social practice, artistic activity, and business enterprise, I will increase its status as a subject worthy of serious consideration.”
Toward the end of my time working for the Glamour Machine, I had certainly formulated my critiques, though I wished to offer the subject no more of my consideration, energy, or spirit. I was cooked. Even the glamorous parts started to feel like a grind: the whole thing an ongoing, rhinestone-encrusted fever dream. I once walked out of the ballroom, looked to my left, and laid eyes on an amateur competitor, wearing a neon pink Latin dress, full hair and make up, smoking a butt, transfixed (looking through her readers), at the slot machine she was playing. I could call it a “mirage at the Mirage” but for the fact that I saw it with my own two goddamn eyes (I know I did) and that it happened at Foxwoods. And with some years’ hindsight, it occurs to me that we were, at that time, not only on the land of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation–we were conducting our curious business at their casino. Not that any representative of the Glamour Machine was thinking about that, with any great intentionality. There was, it will shock no one to learn, no stated land acknowledgement, no offering of gratitude to the host. (What a way to confuse the american consumer about the experience they’d been sold.) If the Glamour Machine could actually provide financial benefit to Peoples Indigenous to the land where any of the 524 Tribal Gaming locations currently operate at the time of this writing, through the hosting of dance competitions, that would certainly give rise to interesting questions about the Glamour Machine’s potential utility. And if anyone wants to chat about this more, I’ll attach my email.
But beyond that, I’ll make no great claim about whether and how the practice of american dancesport could ever be Decolonized. Doesn’t really feel like my place to say. Not by myself. Not at this late stage. Not without some fundamental shifts in the landscape of the field. Not without formulating yet another misguided metaphor. And not without, yet again, intentionally or not, working to Smooth out the story.