THE WORK OF DANCE: LABOR, MOVEMENT, AND IDENTITY IN THE 1930’s

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Photo: New Dance Group Studio Archive

In this work, Mark Franko deftly explores the complex relationship of theatrical dancing to the labor movements of the 1930’s. Franko’s ideas impress with dimension and inventiveness. I especially enjoyed his assertions regarding the image of the chorus girl in Busby Berkeley’s Gold Diggers of 1933. He proposes that We’re in the Money establishes strong links between the body, labor, money, and sexuality. The body of the chorus girl is rendered as a commodity such that “We’re in the Money” can also mean “We are money” and the “Money is in us” We can employ this trope to contemporary images of the female body on screen (although not really chorus girls) in similar Berkeley-like music videos and performances. Beyonce’s luxuriously long weaves, Madonna’s impossible plastic surgery, and Nicki Minaj’s un-naturally tiny waist-to-ass ratio all imply that money has been exchanged in order to sexualize, and as such, present the body as commodity. Franko employs Susan Manning and Ellen Graff’s writing on Helen Tamiris and racial appropriation to discuss the history and context of her dance How Long, Brethren. Furthermore, Franko locates the early work of Martha Graham, Jane Dudley, Anna Sokolow within the political climate of the 1930’s. At times, I found the writing style convoluted and felt that Mr. Franko often sabotages his brilliant ideas with language that can obscure, rather than illuminate his remarkable thoughts for the reader.