Dr. Laura H. C Robinson
Society for Dance Research, PoP MOVES
Senior Lecturer in Dance on the BA (Hons) Dance: Urban Practice degree. Research specialisms include Popular Dance, Dance on Screen, Masculinities, Spectacle and Reality Television.
Dr. Laura Robinson is a Senior Lecturer in Dance at the University of East London. She currently teaches arts/event management, employability and cultural policy on the BA (Hons) Dance: Urban Practice, as well as supporting students in their Dissertations.
Her PhD research focused on the construction and performance of spectacle in male Street dance crew performances on U.K. television. Research specialisms include Popular Dance, Dance on Screen, Masculinities, Spectacle and Reality Television.
Alongside her academic career, Laura was the National Development Manager for the Exercise Movement and Dance Partnership, the National Governing Body of Dance Fitness, and worked with Independence as the Dare2Dance Project Manager.
Laura is the membership secretary for the Society of Dance
Research and interim chair of PoP MOVES, an international research group
studying performances of the popular.
Despite the burgeoning popularity of male street dance crew performances within U.K. televised talent show competitions, as well as the steady growth of international Hip Hop dance scholarship, commercial street dance practices tend to be ignored by academia due to the diminished value of these mediated performances and their deemed inauthenticity in comparison with other vernacular practice. Current literature on televised dance competitions considers the notion of spectacle (McMains, 2006; Weisbrod, 2011, 2014), but there is a continued focus on the solo dance performer, and it not does attend to spectacle as both a visual aesthetic and as a condition of a commodified society.
This thesis satisfies such absence in research by critically investigating the constructed and performance of spectacle within male street dance crew performances on U.K television talent show competitions. It interrogates the nature and manifestation of spectacle in relation to the dancing body within a televised commercial competitive format, and considers how might these dancing bodies be made visible by their situation within the omnipotent media spectacle of the television talent show. Finally, it questions what are the stakes in situating the body as a spectacular image, and do these bodies hold any agency within their reduction to spectacle?
This thesis necessarily undertakes an interdisciplinary approach. Drawing upon Dodd’s (2001) observations of the triadic relationship between body, camera and post-production edit, and Lansdale’s (2008) intertextual approach for analysing the dancing body within a postmodern society, this thesis conducts a textual analysis of dance on television, examining 59 street dance crew performances between 2008- 2013 featured within Britain’s Got Talent (2007-current) and Got To Dance (2010- current). Through a critique of theoretical perspectives evolved from Marxism and Visual Theory, as well as concepts that have shaped the fields of Dance, Television and Film studies, this thesis explores the construction of spectacle through an exploration of identity construction, choreographic structure and content, and the relationship between technology and the body; key concepts that arise from an early analysis of the research field.
Analysis reveals that crews perform ‘the surplus’; the transgression of corporeal boundaries through the virtuosic ability of the Street Dance body and the further amplification of the body through techniques of cinematic excess. Specifically, this is achieved through performances of the larger-than-life character, the cinematic special effect and the technologically enhanced cyborg. By performing the surplus, however, the television talent show frames crews as commodities, reducing them to fetishised images through the erasure of their histories, labour systems, and the displacement of the human. Dancers have a voice within the media spectacle, however, and negate their reduction to glossy image through continued emphasis on themes of brotherhood, labour, and human emotion. Despite the surpassing of the body through performances of the surplus, it is the fleshy humanity of the dancer that registers these performances as spectacular. While not a main finding of my thesis, this conclusion raise a warning to Dance Studies’ continued poststructuralist approach of referring to the ‘body’, and firmly positions the human experience, or the humanity of the body, within the televised talent show spectacle.
Robinson, L (2014). The Dance Factor: Hip Hop, spectacle and reality television in Blanco-Borelli, M (ed) The Oxford Handbook of Dance on the Popular Screen.
Robinson, L (2013). Keeping the Faith: Issues of identity, spectacle and embodiment in Northern Soul in Dodds, S and Cook, S.C (eds) Bodies of sound: studies across popular music and dance, Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Robinson, L (2012). Some Like it Hip Hop: Gender play and performance. Society for Dance Research Newsletter. Society for Dance research.
Future publications include a book chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Dance and Competition.