The Case of the Sexy Jewess: Dance, Gender, and Jewish Joke-work in U.S Pop Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.
Amidst the growing forums of kinky Jews, orthodox drag queens, and Jewish geisha girls, we find today's sexy Jewess in a host of reflexive plays with sexed-up self-display. A social phantasm with real legs, she moves boldly between neo-burlesque striptease, comedy television, ballet movies, and progressive porn to construct the 21st Century Jewish American woman through charisma and comic craft, in-your-face antics, and offensive charm. Her image redresses longstanding stereotypes of the hag, the Jewish mother, and Jewish American princess that have demeaned the Jewish woman as overly demanding, inappropriate, and unattractive across the 20th century, even as Jews assimilated into the American mainstream. But why does "sexy" work to update tropes of the Jewish woman? And how does sex link to humor in order for this update to work?
Entangling questions of sexiness to race, gender, and class, The Case of the Sexy Jewess frames an embodied joke-work genre that is most often, but not always meant to be funny. In a contemporary period after the thrusts of assimilation and women's liberation movements, performances usher in new versions of old scripts with ranging consequences. At the core is the recuperative performance of identity through impersonation, and the question of its radical or conservative potential. Appropriating, re-appropriating, and mis-appropriating identity material within and beyond their midst, Sexy Jewess artists play up the failed logic of representation by mocking identity categories altogether. They act as comic chameleons, morphing between margin and center in countless number of charged caricatures. Embodying ethnic and gender positions as always already on the edge while ever more in the middle, contemporary Jewish female performers extend a comic tradition in new contexts, mobilizing progressive discourses from positions of newfound race and gender privilege. Buy the book here.
“(Post) Pious and Porn Spectacles: Frontier Choreographies of the U.S.” Jewess” in Perspectives on American Dance: The New Millennium. Edited by Jennifer Atkins, Sally R. Sommer, and Tricia Henry Young. University Press of Florida, 2018.
Borrowing also from Sander Gilman’s notion of the “Jewish Frontier” as a symbolic space in real time and always under construction, this essay examines how the seemingly opposed performances of progressive rabbi Sharon Brous and punk pornographer Joanna Angel work in theoretical relation to choreograph a frontier of feminist Jewish discourse. Religious and punk-porn institutions and their female heads of house offer literal emblems of Los Angeles westwardness and figurative figures of Jewish unorthodoxy. By broadcasting Jewish female bosses with rebel pulpit positions, I argue that their live and online hubs re-zone socio-spatial performances of contemporary Jewish identity politics. The comparative analysis of choreographic agendas tracks the ways in which these cultural leaders and their orgs assign meaning to the moving body as well as how they deploy bodies in space and time. What results maps a complex and curious Jewish cartography of layered frontierist concerns.
“World Cup Half Full: Reflections on the Hamburg Cohort” in The Dancer Citizen http://dancercitizen.org/moving-the-map/
In the midst of the 2018 World Cup, what does it mean for political refugees past and present to wear and wave the German flag, when for Sakhi, who loves the sport and the team in earnest, it is a real dream, and for me, it challenges the limits of how far I will go in establishing ties to place still so charged for me and my Jewish family? The next installment of an ongoing improvisation practice between the author, Hannah Schwadron and collaborator Sakhi Poya was our sweetly parodic take on German soccer, wherein we take on questions of nationhood, belonging, intimacy, and heroism, learning from Sakhi how to envision a world cup half full.
“I, Thou, and the Sphere Between: Reflections on Dancing Difference in One Direction” in PARtake: The Journal of Performance and Research, 2018.
This paper addresses the subjects of dance and exile in relation to diverse cultural histories in Germany and their resonances across distinct time periods. As my central example, I introduce Dancing Exile, an ongoing improvisation and performance project developed across borders, cultures, and experiences. The project underscores the work of political and artistic representation in Hamburg on subjects past and present, as it addresses contemporary refugeeism through resonances of my own family’s Jewish holocaust history. Sharing the collaborative work of performers from Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Germany and the US, I discuss aesthetic and social dynamics in relation to questions of migration, relationship and cultural exchange. Contributing to growing creative and scholarly interest in the subject of (Post)Migrant Theater, I underscore performance dealing with movement and memory, place and displacement, while expanding the framework to think across disparate temporal and political histories. The Dancing Exile project draws together forced migrations out of Germany during WWII with movements into the country since 2015, negotiating distinct conditions of statelessness while working through their affective intersections. Exploring the choreographic potential of Martin Buber’s seminal philosophical text I and Thou (1923), I theorize a practice of improvisation developed over the last year that both makes possible and complicates the work of intercultural collaboration in the context of dancing exiles then and now.
“Black Swan, White Noise” in The Oxford Handbook on Dance and Politics. Eds. Rebekah J. Kowal, Gerald Sigmund, Randy Martin. Oxford Univ Press, 2017.
This chapter analyzes Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010) as a Jewish horror film with fake lesbian monsters. The Swan Lake remake offers a site of racial and sexual containment for Jewish actresses in ballet roles. Against damaging pressures of professional dance on the female psyche, the film recasts White and Black Swan roles as monstrous representations of the Ethnic Other, the Woman, and the Sexual Deviant. Analysis of select plot and performance components challenge fatal disfigurements of the film’s female characters: In what ways does Black Swan use ballet to appropriate social and political identities with tenuous relationships to the mainstream? How might these appropriations amount to an ultimate domestication of the very identities the film puts forward for thrilling appeal? This linkage of dance and politics intersects critical race theory, queer theory, and horror film theory as revealing dimensions of classical dance in narrative cinema.
“The Weight of Light Contradictions for Susan Rose and Dancers: An Exercise in Parallel Processing and Power” in Choreographic Practices, Issue 8, Number 2, 2017.
This article returns to the improvisatory practice of Los Angeles-based choreographer, Susan Rose and her 1978 dance work, Light Contradictions. Analysis of the rule-based improvisation illuminates a critical choreographic practice based on parallel processing and power plays that has sustained in performance for four decades. Reliant on its simple rules, Light Contradictions makes its main message known: Do what I say as I say it, and I’ll do whatever you tell me to. The doing and saying duet appears friendly enough as an arrangement based on equal parts. What ensues, however, is the hysteria of two people – or several sets of two – as they aim to draw out a boundless repertoire of tasks and actions by way of bossing each other around. As the piece travels, rotating performers and crowds, it acts as a platform for keen interpersonal provocation and cultural exchange, simultaneity and contradiction.
“Ballet Bawdies and Dancing Ducks: Jewish Swans of the Silver Screen” in Oxford Handbooks Online, Dance and Music, 2017.
This article examines the dancing joke-work of Jewish film stars as ballet swans in Be Yourself and Funny Girl. It shows how the joke of the Jewish swan queers white heterosexual femininity while revealing the sustained power of its classical Westerncentric swan tropes. In situating Jewish swan humor within theories of parody, queer discourse, and gendered joke-work, the article highlights the pleasurable embodiment of enduring Jewish female stereotypes and reveals a comic dance legacy of the funny girl body unfit for love. It also explains how the humor of ballet parody and the swan constructs the Jewish funny girl body; how Be Yourself and Funny Girl stake a claim in ethnic and sexual otherness as sites of comic expression and critical difference; and how each film embodies critiques of classical ballet and its idealist proscriptions for white women even as both sustain romantic fantasies of female leads.