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Introduction: Embodied Arts

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In a welcome shift, the four essays that compose this special issue refocused our initial call away from academic genre toward a more expansive examination of bodies in motion. The essays share a scholarly commitment to elucidating the interrelationships between body-based performances and what Susan Leigh Foster has termed “bodily theorics,” or a given historical moment’s normative and resistant modes of embodiment.[3] A focus on historically situated power dynamics emerges when these essays are examined collectively. Rather than evidencing an ideological project that equates identity politics with embodiment, this focus develops from a primary physics of choreography, wherein time and energy produce the power required to activate movement repertoires. All movement happens within sets of constraints; here, our authors consider U.S. American norms of bodily comportment as socio-cultural constraints that frame the choreographies their subjects generate and complicate. The essays therefore comment on the hierarchies of power embedded in embodied performances, opening up conversations about race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and size.

All four essays engage with popular representations that challenge traditional aesthetic values about bodies in motion. Each essay articulates and argues against an ideal U.S. American form: the trim, athletic, disciplined, white body. Through their discussions of thin and fat bodies, bodies that trouble ideas of femininity, oppositional aesthetics of white and indigenous bodies, and the legacy of black female embodiment, the authors show how performing artists describe, interpret, and subvert established norms of bodily comportment through their embodied performances. Additionally, the authors’ serendipitous shared focus on forms of popular entertainment reveals a wide range of social and cultural implications of embodied performance. We interpret this emphasis on “popular” (though not always commercial) rather than “concert” performance as affirmation of the degree to which theories of embodiment structure the bodily lives of everyday people.

Ryan Donovan’s investigation of Broadway casting practices in relation to body size and the widespread commodification of thinness opens our issue. “‘Must Be Heavyset’: Casting Women, Fat Stigma, and Broadway Bodies” contributes to a growing and compelling body of scholarship at the intersection of performance studies and fat studies, as well as the current and lively conversation on casting within performance studies. Utilizing an archive comprised of original interviews and voluminous press seen through theories of fat embodiment and performativity, Donovan carefully describes the process of workshopping and producing Hairspray for Broadway, a process wherein allegedly inclusive aims were hamstrung by commercial imperatives. Contextualizing Hairspray within historical and contemporary Broadway productions reveals an unsurprising yet critical emphasis on women’s body size and a concomitant mandate of thinness in order for female romantic desires to be culturally legible and, importantly, profitable.

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