October 20th, 2008

Dance Culture in the Age of YouTube

Since Curm asked some good questions on my previous post about dance video and music culture, it seems I should share my abstract for the presentation I’ll be giving at this weekend’s annual meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology, which follows from a similar curiosity (my own) about how current circumstances relate to historical patterns — not to mention how we might go about researching such matters.

If I can get my ish together, I hope to make a video for this one too —

Music, Dance, and Ethnomusicology in the Age of YouTube

By one recent estimate, YouTube consumed as much bandwidth in 2007 as
the entire Internet in 2000. That’s a staggering figure, but what
should be of special interest to ethnomusicologists is that so much of
this activity is suffused with music. Indeed, the most viewed videos
on YouTube are, far and away, musically mediated. Regional and
(trans)national dance crazes have proliferated thanks to the site, and
it might be said that YouTube bears witness to more individual and
collective musical activity than any other single repository. It
perhaps goes without saying that music drives video culture. But in a
moment when it may be more accurate to measure a song’s popularity by
its personalized instances on YouTube, we might well ask: Is music
culture being driven by video? What are the implications of this
shift? With regard to impact on musical practice, what are the
prevailing modes of representation (of self and other) on YouTube? As
researchers, how do we navigate the inherent technological barriers,
multimedia dimensions, intensely mediated identities, sophomoric
comment threads, and privacy issues? Might YouTube users’
self-representation practices provide any models? Do avatars cast
shadows in the field? Considering several examples, with particular
reference to rise of do-it-yourself dance videos, this paper considers
various implications of the advent of online video for music
scholarship and music culture.

If anyone has any feedback wrt how one might begin attempting to put these recent developments into historical context, I’m all ears. It’s quite an interesting problem, I think: how do we compare the advent — nay, explosion? — of music/dance culture on the tubes with good ol’ meatspace/realtime music/dance culture? Obviously, they intertwine, but I think something profound is going on, and I’m not yet sure how to demonstrate that. Examples, sure, but comparisons?


  • 1. LMGM  |  October 21st, 2008 at 6:36 am

    “Do avatars cast shadows in the field?” Ha. Very referential, you.

    (Note to non ethnomusicology-nerds: there was an important book on fieldwork ethics called Shadows in the Field, edited by T. Cooley and G. Barz.)

  • 2. w&w  |  October 21st, 2008 at 7:39 am

    thought a couple ethnoids out there might catch that one =)

  • 3. John  |  October 21st, 2008 at 8:46 am

    Boring teaching observation: I used to use music samples when teaching. I had to have really good sound or it fell flat, but I could get people to listen. But I had to haul around a boom box to class and CDs. Now it’s all in iTunes and most classrooms have speakers, but the students don’t want just to hear the music anymore. They want to see the video. So they choose to view, even if it’s concert footage with bad sound and highly compressed video, rather than listen to superior sound without an image. Youtube killed the audio star?

  • 4. chewy  |  October 21st, 2008 at 9:37 am

    I don’t think this is just a ‘black music’ phenomenon though, will you be looking at other variations in your study?
    There are heaps of Tectoniks videos out there, mostly from France where it’s practiced on street corners.
    There is a Melbourne shuffle that you will see at any dance event there and I witnessed an organised park dance off one afternoon too.
    I am actually in the process of trying to compile a list of different regions dances, so am really looking forward to this study.

  • 5. w&w  |  October 21st, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Hey, Chewy, I don’t see anything in the above abstract that implies this is a “black thing.” Yes, my previous post on the subject was specifically concerned with African-American dance-video phenomena and black digital youth culture more generally, but this talk is definitely concerned with the much wider world of dance-music online video. Indeed, bringing in things like tektonik and shuffle and jumpstyle — all of which I plan to touch on — allows one (me!) to make a stronger argument about the degree to which dance/video are driving music on a global scale. (Even so, I think there’s an argument to be made, still, about the outsize influence and circulation of Af-Am dance memes. That’s not what I’m after here, however.)

    I’d love to see your list at some point — the sooner the better — for I know that I’m hardly going to be able to be comprehensive, esp given the space constraints of a 20-min presentation.


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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