Dance in US Popular Culture

Chapter 9 (Case Study 1): Is He… You Know…


Opening Section

The text on the TikTok video reads “What happens when you put gen Z in the same room together.” What happens is this: in a crowded dance club populated mostly by women, a large video screen shows a music video, and just at the moment in the song when a small bell chimes, the partygoers in the club extend an arm above their heads and bend it at the wrist, timing the move perfectly with the chime. The crowd goes wild, delighted at the move, and the video ends. It’s a small piece of choreography—a simple bend of the wrist—but a closer look at this tiny gesture reveals unexpected reworkings of old stereotypes and surprising twenty-first-century identity formations.

One of the big pop hits of Summer 2021 was “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat featuring SZA, a track on which both artists rap over a bouncy, disco-inflected pop melody. Released in April 2021 as the lead single to Doja Cat’s third album, Planet Her, “Kiss Me More” hit #1 on the Billboard Top 40 and spawned at least two popular trends on the social medium TikTok. Neither trend can be obviously linked to the song’s lyrics, but both feature the same section of “Kiss Me More,” the second verse, in which SZA raps “Caught dippin’ with your friend / You ain’t even have man, lyin’ on ya— / You know that.” The word SZA doesn’t say after “lyin’ on ya—” is replaced in the song by a small ding. A little bell chimes—as if a twinkle of light momentarily glinted from her smile. In the music video, SZA looks at us and winks. Ding.

 TikTokers first began using “Kiss Me More” to claim ownership over their significant others. Beginning as early as May 2021, users made videos with text that read something like “The A in his name stands for…” as the SZA section of the song played. When the little chime arrived in the song, the text would switch to “All mine” or some equivalent phrase while the TikToker looked at the camera smugly. There are numerous iterations of this meme, using different letters and rephrasing the possessive statement, but the meme’s narrative always asks us to anticipate a reveal. We wait for the TikToker to tell us what we don’t know, and the viewer is rewarded—like Pavlov’s dog—each time the bell chimes.

A dance meme using this exact segment of the song became popular at the same time. In the earliest versions, an ostensibly heterosexual young man articulates a problem with which he has been confronted. The TikTok text reads, “Nan- ‘why havent u got your self a girlfriend yet?’,” or “pov: a girl starts to flirt with you,” or “When your parents think you have a ‘roommate’ moving in.” The young men don’t speak in the videos, but as the bell chimes, they flash a limp wrist, apparently revealing their gay sexualities. This small dance move became very popular on TikTok, primarily among gay and bisexual men (of various races and nationalities), but it was eventually adopted by lesbian, trans, and other TikTokers sharing coming-out narratives. In each iteration of the meme, an apparently heterosexual TikToker mobilizes the dance move to reveal one of several queer sexualities. TikTokers across lines of sexuality, race, and gender began using this small gesture—synced with this tiny chime—to subvert assumptions of heterosexuality. As we watch, we wait for the reveal, and the ding tells us the (queer) information we’re anticipating.

The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical

Chapter 16: The Pink Elephant in the Room


Opening Section

The day after the revival of Promises, Promises opened on April 25, 2010, Newsweek posted an article entitled “Straight Jacket” on its website that began with the following provocation: “The reviews for the Broadway revival of Promises, Promises were negative enough, even though most of the critics ignored the real problem—the big pink elephant in the room.” As the author, pop culture critic Ramin Setoodeh, saw it, the problem everyone was ignoring about the revival was that Sean Hayes, the actor playing Promises’ lead role, was unconvincing in the part because he is an out gay man. Setoodeh reminds readers that Hayes is “best known as the queeny Jack on Will & Grace” and that the actor’s “sexual orientation is part of who he is.” Thus, he complains, “it’s weird seeing Hayes play straight. He comes off as wooden and insincere, as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.” Setoodeh then describes a different gay actor’s performance on a primetime television show as “more like your average theater queen” than a convincing love interest for a girl, but returns to the topic of Promises, Promises to describe Hayes as someone who “tips off even your grandmother’s gaydar.” The piece’s ostensible point is to discuss the difficulties of being an out gay or lesbian actor, but the article is neither a careful critique of Promises, Promises nor coherently argumentative. Rather, Setoodeh’s article is more a set of musings prompted by his attendance at the Promises revival, and his dislike of the show and its central performance.

These postshow ruminations caused rather a stir. On the gay culture website After Elton, editor- in-chief Michael Jensen posted a scathing response in which he described Setoodeh’s opinions as “shockingly retroactive,” and accused the critic of reiterating “tired gay-obsessions of the far right.” For Jensen, the crux of the matter was that Setoodeh’s critiques damaged the gay community as a whole. Jensen noted that Setoodeh is himself an out gay man, and he argued that “It’s already difficult enough for actors to brave any possible backlash by coming out. Having another gay man say he doesn’t think gay men can convincingly play straight, doesn’t make it any easier.” A few days later Sean Hayes was nominated for a Tony award as best actor in a musical, but the Newsweek kerfuffle had only just begun.

Hayes’s Promises co-star Kristin Chenoweth was next to weigh in on the topic publicly, calling the Newsweek piece “horrendously homophobic” and describing it as a “bigoted, factually inaccurate article that tells people who deviate from heterosexual norms that they can’t be open about who they are and still achieve their dreams.” Through early May, responses to Setoodeh’s article proliferated. Television producer Ryan Murphy called for a boycott of Newsweek; Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black penned an op-ed for the Hollywood Reporter with Jarrett Barrios, then-president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The men attacked Setoodeh directly, saying that his piece “seems to raise more questions about his own internalized biases than what the ‘public’ actually perceives” and that the article “leans away from reality and tilts toward openly gay Setoodeh’s own issues with sexuality and femininity.”6 Some critics came to Newsweek’s defense. Alongside Barrios and Black’s vituperative ad hominem attacks, the Hollywood Reporter ran a well-reasoned dissent by Andrew Wallenstein. In a piece for the Huffington Post entitled “Now That You Mention It, Rock Hudson Did Seem Gay,” playwright Aaron Sorkin defended Newsweek, joking, “This is a sentence I never thought I would type: I’m coming to the defense of a theatre critic.”…

The Disney Musical on Stage and Screen: Critical Approaches from Snow White to Frozen

Chapter 9: Dancing toward Masculinity: Newsies, Gender and Desire


Opening Section


As the story goes, the 1992 film Newsies, directed by Kenny Ortega and starring Christian Bale, was an attempt by Disney to revitalize the live-action movie-musical genre with a story based on real events from 1899. Impoverished orphan children selling newspapers in New York City went on strike when the price of the papers they were selling was raised by media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer during the Spanish–American War. The boys sing, dance and fight for organized labour, finally prevailing over the greed of their employers. Newsies was a resounding flop on the big screen – the New York Times’ Janet Maslin called it ‘joyless’, ‘pointless’ and ‘bungled’ – but the picture gained enormous popularity on the expanding Disney channel, which needed content it could air, and then later on home video, becoming a kind of cult classic. Nearly twenty years later, the movie was crafted into a stage musical by book writer Harvey Fierstein, original composer Alan Menken and original lyricist Jack Feldman. Directed by Jeff Calhoun, Newsies premiered at Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey. The production team claims that, fearing a repeat of the movie’s flop, they were not planning for the show to go to Broadway. But to Broadway it went: Newsies the Musical had its first preview on 15 March 2012 and ran until August 2014, clocking over 1,000 performances at the Nederlander Theatre on West 41st Street. The show was nominated for eight Tony awards and six Drama Desk awards, winning at both ceremonies in the categories of best choreography and best score.

A family-oriented show (almost all reviews of Newsies remark on this), perhaps the most notable thing about the cast of Newsies is the number of men it contains. There are two significant female characters in the show, young reporter Katherine Plumber and wise chanteuse Medda Larkin. The cast also includes two other women, and women play nuns and other ensemble roles. The entirety of the rest of the cast is male. But if its overwhelming maleness is what immediately strikes one about Newsies, what is most memorable about the show is its dancing.

The young men in the show – most spectacularly in the number ‘Seize the Day’ – outdo themselves, performing extraordinary feats of terpsichorean athleticism. In the first important review of Newsies at Paper Mill, the New York Times’ David Rooney was delighted by the company’s ‘spring-loaded backflips, airborne spins, rambunctious kicks and balletic pivots’, noting the ‘irrepressible physicality’ of ‘the athletic ensemble’. Just before the show opened on Broadway the New York Post reported that during previews ‘there were three midshow standing ovations, triggered in each case by Christopher Gattelli’s buoyant choreography’. In the Daily News, Joe Dziemianowicz praised the fact that ‘Gattelli’s awesome athletic choreography never quits. He keeps the young dancers flipping, tapping and twirling across the urban landscape’. More descriptively, perhaps, Wayman Wong described the ‘athletic and dynamic dances’ as ‘pay[ing] homage to [Kenny] Ortega, Michael Kidd and Gene Kelly’. …

Imagined Theatres: Writing for a Theoretical Stage

97811381220555 pieces edited by Daniel Sack


Dealing by W.B. Worthen – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

Disappearing Act by Fintan Walsh – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

A Happy Life by Aaron C. Thomas – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas

Music for Charlie Morel by Aaron C. Thomas – gloss by Joseph Cermatori

Remains by Andy Field – gloss by Aaron C. Thomas


From the back cover

What possible and impossible worlds might theatre imagine?

In what way is writing itself a performance?

How do we understand the relationship between real performances that engender imaginary reflections and imaginary conceptions that become real theatrical productions?

Imagined Theatres collects hypothetical performances written by nearly one hundred leading theorists and artists of the contemporary stage. These dramatic fragments, prose poems, and microfictions describe imaginary events that put theory itself onstage. Each no longer than a page, and accompanied by a reflective gloss, these texts consider what might be possible and impossible in the theatre.

From Joseph Cermatori’s gloss on Music for Charlie Morel

Vinteuil is a fictional composer, plucked from some lost time, the Lost Time of Proust. But his music, inaudible though it may be, refuses to stay within this text. It cannot be confined to the pages of Proust’s La Prisonnière, nor to those of Imagined Theatres. Neither does it exist only within the fiction established by Aaron C. Thomas’s writing, but “exerts itself” into the reader’s sensory world: “The music they hear—the music we hear—is unmistakable.” It takes on a life all its own: silently, from behind a fluttering curtain, it pulsates, “swelling, expanding, contracting.” Rising and falling, it brims with all the warmth and tenderness of a lover’s chest as one rests one’s head upon it in the earliest hours of the day, while the sun stretches its gauzy light through the humid morning air and the drapes of a bedroom window.

Theatre as Voyeurism: the Pleasure of Watching

Chapter 8: Viewing the Pornographic Theatre: Explicit Voyeurism, Artaud, and Ann Liv Young’s Cinderella


Editor’s Description (from p. 21 of George Rodosthenous’s Introduction)

The eighth chapter deals with approaches to the naked exhibited body and the pornographic in theatre. Aaron C. Thomas considers the work of Ann Liv Young in ‘Viewing the Pornographic Theatre: Explicit Voyeurism, Artaud and Ann Liv Young’s Cinderella’ and questions the ‘value of the pornographic in the theatre’ and ‘what pornography itself might make possible’. He interrogates Walter Kendrick’s important work on pornography The Secret Museum and invites the reader to imagine its pornographic utility. These theories are cast alongside Hunt’s and Bataille’s notions of gratuitousness and Artaud’s views on the pornographic theatre. He places the body of the viewer within the centre of this critical framework and summarizes Grosz’s proposal that this kind of theatre leads to a pleasure which is ‘kathartic – sexuality of release, orgasm, and ejaculation’. His discussion of Cinderella and its explicit pornographic content is linked to audience reception which can be ‘deep anger, frustration, and horror, as well as embarrassed fascination and lingering unsettlement’. Thomas stresses the significance of pornographic theatre and points out that ‘the most effective way for the theatre to defend itself from Artaud’s accusation that it is nothing more than a brothel, offering only momentary excitement, is, paradoxically, to move even closer towards the pornographic’.