Mixed-Race Problematics: Theorizing a Multiracial Interpretive Position for Contemporary Dance

Miya Shaffer
World Arts and Cultures/Dance
UC Los Angeles

My dissertation develops and applies an original theorization of a multiracial analytic for dance interpretation: a critical lens through which dance interpreters can examine the construction of racial categories, among other themes, within twenty-first century North American dance. Dominant US-based definitions of the term “multiracial” typically indicate self-identification with multiple broad racial groups. I extend this approach and imagine multiracialism as an interpretive position, which informs how racial categories are imagined and perceived beyond monolithic constructions. I ask: What would it mean to interpret dances through this critical “position,” comparable to the feminist, queer, and critical race frames? How might this framework structure the spectator’s understanding of racial hierarchies and solidarities as they are mobilized choreographically? Employing choreographic analysis, discourse analysis, and ethnography, I argue that this analytic illuminates how dances can maintain racial hierarchies, even when normative social divisions—such as those of discrete racial classifications—are seemingly challenged. Elaborating on the argument that dance is not mere entertainment but an active social-political endeavor, my dissertation nuances urgent public discussions about anti-racism in the arts by examining (re-)constructions of racial difference in dance and choreography, artistic forms which often invoke the spectator’s visual recognition of the racialized subject onstage. In doing so, I show how new racial stratifications can emerge without hegemonic perceptions of what race “looks like” on the dancing body.

Image credit: Yonsei F*ck F*ck (2022), choreographed by Glenn Potter-Takata, photo by Elyse Mertz.