Gender Roles Evolution in Performance and Dancing

2. Examine the gendered and sexualized constructions of the 1960s and 1970s dance floors utilizing Tim Lawrence’s Queering of the Dance Floor. How is mandatory heterosexuality subverted? Consider music, venue, DJs, etc. Within this framework, how do you see the evolution of “The Ball” as portrayed in Paris is Burning (1990)? Does the Ball reinforce heteronormative structures of gender identity (look to Butler in History of Drag Balls)? Or does it perform/accomplish something else?



Disco in the 1970’s stripped social dancing from all of its sexual norms. The music, the culture, the clothing, and the interaction was all unique. Disco, I think, did not intentionally strip heterosexual control from dancing. It removed heterosexuality as a side effect of giving dancing a different purpose. Disco was more focused on partying and the freedom of a new social scene. Lawrence discusses many testaments that disco was not a movement focused on courting like social dancing in the past. This removal of implied relationships with dance patterns subverted the masculinity.

In a similar fashion balls removed heterosexual norms by giving participants freedom. Their intention was not to be anti-masculine but to be their truth. For example, balls had categories that were very heterosexual like the cooperate professionals and the military uniform competitors.

Balls and disco both reinforce and degrade heteronormative structures of gender. They are both social institutions designed to give participants a space to break norms. In discos and balls it is encouraged to explore different sexualities and gender roles. This exposes people to different structures of gender identities and makes them more accessible. However, they are not normalizing these gender exceptions. They just create an place for observation.  Lawrence says, “What is more, participants in this stratum of New York dance culture regularly perceived their actions to be politically radical, because gay culture was still historically marginal and the practices of disco were understood to be aesthetically progressive.”(Lawrence, 240).  I think that disco and balls are both seen as entertainment which is a separate entity from everyday life. People in balls and disco would participate in extravagant show cases of debunking genders but only for the night. The next day they would go to their day jobs and try to participate in society as an accepted gender role. I think these practices made breaking gender norms like a costume not a reality.  In Paris Is Burning one of the attendees says “in a ball you feel 100% right being gay” but in society it is not the same. So while these institutions gave queerness a space, this space was not in society.




Raves: Gender and Sexuality

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The raves of the 90’s up to the present have been presented as temporary wonderlands, subverting mainstream culture and offering hordes of people a safe space to explore their gender and sexuality, contributing to the modern understanding of these facets of identity.  Raves are Electronic dance music(EDM) centered music festivals, usually taking place in large buildings or open spaces.  The history of EDM is also worth noting for its association with homosexuality in the beginnings.

Some of the first EDM music originated in Chicago in the 1980’s and quickly began growing in popularity, “especially among the gay community in Chicago” (King).  The underground and occasionally illegal rave culture that was just blossoming offered homosexuals in Chicago a safe place to embrace their sexuality and meet others who supported them.  In the beginning it started when DJs combined Disco music with electronic sounds with a repeating beat.  Within a decade rave festivals began to pop up around the world, beginning in Europe, but eventually making their way to the US.  The Electric Daisy Carnival (images 7 and 10) was one of the first large scale raves in the US.  These festivals began to multiply, expanding that safe space to reach many more people.

As rave culture grew and began to take its current shape, it developed a central theme of “peace, love, unity, and respect,” offering support and tolerance to every group.  This motto can be seen on the backside of the Nocturnal Wonderland image, where it says “Peace, Love, Unity, Bring on the noise!” (image 2).  One main document outlining this central dogma is the anonymously written “Raver’s Manifesto,” which describes a rave as a “magical bubble that can, for one evening, protect us from the horrors, atrocities, and pollution of the outside world” (Anonymous).  Individuals choose to become involved in a sub culture because of the support or sense of belonging that they offer.  Ravers choose this sub culture to escape from the pains of reality and be comfortable in their own identity.  As it relates to gender and sexuality, individuals can immerse themselves in a crowd of people who accept them for who they are.  This allows ravers to think more about who they are and how they want to be seen in society.  It helps them grow as people, noting that “somewhere around 35Hz [they] could feel the hand of God at [their] backs, pushing [them] forward, pushing [them] to push [themselves] to strengthen [their] minds, [their] bodies, and [their] spirits” in an effort of self-improvement” (Anonymous). The participants are striving to create a more progressive community by bettering themselves and others.

EDM music strives to be futuristic and progressive in its appearance and content, which is why this rave scene has only happened with EDM.  EDM and rave culture is very utopian in nature, constantly striving for a society that does not judge based on sexuality or gender, or any other part of an individual’s identity.  Raves are small attempts at forming this perfect world, if only for a night or a weekend.  Most participants actively attempt to include individuals of every gender and sexuality, to move past social constructs into a more welcoming community.  The back of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer perfectly describes this, stating that “With your continued support and love we can bridge the barriers that separate us and build a sustainable culture for all to enjoy” (image 2).  Raves actively bring people together, while mainstream society tends to drive people apart.  It is for this reason that so many cling to raves as an outlet from a society that does not accept them.  The focus of this exclusion by society might be for many different reasons, but one focus is gender and sexuality.  In the temporary, non-judgmental community that is created, there are no obvious labels for gender and sexuality.  In the low-light and high intensity environment, these distinctions are blurred and it’s much more difficult to label participants.

Rave culture distinctly subverts mainstream culture’s definitions of gender and sexuality.  One main idea behind raves is to escape from society, taking every opportunity to move away from society into a more progressive community.  Even the depictions of raves as seen through the flyers are very dissimilar to modern life.  The front side of the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer illustrates this with its cartoon character and otherworldly imaging (image 1).  The back side of the Electric Daisy Carnival flyer provides the motto of “One People. One Planet. One Vibe,” referencing the central theme of acceptance and unity (image 7).  At raves, participants attempt to turn their back to society, but without hatred.  They seek to accept all individuals, even those who won’t accept them.  They want to be a central part of “a massive, global, tribal village that transcends man-made law, physical geography, and time itself” without harming or judging those who aren’t a part of it (Anonymous).  This goal has many resemblances to the hippy counter culture of the 1960’s.

The hippy counter culture of the 1960’s also sought to improve society by accepting every individual.  The article “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children” by Becca Rothfeld describes rave culture as the “second coming of flower-power,” referencing the afore mentioned 1960’s subculture (Rothfeld).  One comparison can be made with the events populated by members of the two subcultures.  Woodstock, one of the largest collections of people who identified as hippies, was held in New York and was a significant step, and arguably the greatest success of the hippy counter culture. The Electric Daisy Carnival holds similar importance for rave culture.  It was first held in Los Angeles in the early 1990’s, with a much smaller audience than it typically attracts today.  The Electric Daisy Carnival was the first major, consistent rave in the US.  Like Woodstock it was the prime display of the subculture for a while and was the main event that allowed people to learn about the values and motifs of the sub culture, at least in the US.  Fortunately for rave culture, the Electric Daisy Carnival and insomniac events in general (the company backing many large raves like EDC) fared better than Woodstock, which was not consistent in following years.

There is a significance to the somewhat hidden symbolism on rave flyers.  A prime example of this is in the Nocturnal Wonderland flyer from SDSU Special Collections, the first and second images in this post.  The flyer contains a large amount of fairytale and celestial objects like stars, butterflies, mushrooms, and flowers.  These objects combine to form a motif of acceptance, making the rave seem like a wonderland, appealing to more people.  The backside of the fyler even describes “Nocturnal Wonderland” as a “Global Unity Project,” illustrating the theme of acceptance (image 2).  The mushrooms can be a reference to the drug culture that is typical of raves, bringing participants to experience a wider range of emotions.  The flowers may be a reference to the peace in “PLUR” or even a reference to the hippy culture that shares so much with rave culture.  The Cheshire cat on the flyer, from “Alice in Wonderland,” may also represent a return to more primal urges of participants.  Escaping from the constraints of modern society, ironically through the ambience of electronic music, allows them to explore more of their primal, human emotions to grow more as a person.

Rave culture, since the early 1980’s, has offered a safe community for participants to explore and embrace their own gender and sexuality, among many other parts of their identity, without fear of reproach.  This subculture has been important in shaping modern conceptions of gender and sexuality.  Raves have been able to combine music and community to form temporary escapes from the modern world, which attract participants from every walk of life.



Rothfeld, Becca. “How Ravers Became the New Flower Children.” The New Republic, 26       July 2014,               new-flower-children.

King, Gus. “EDM/Rave Culture”. Grinnelle College. N.D.                            

Anonymous. “Raver’s Manifesto”

“Rave Flyers.” Between the Covers Rare Books, inc. Rave culture, mid 1990s- early 2000’s.    SDSU Special Collections


HACK #4: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Roy Wilkins TIME Cover

* August 30, 1963 – Roy Wilkins, Executive Director of the NAACP, on the cover of TIME Magazine. Gil-Scott Heron mentions Wilkins in the song, suggesting that he is contributing to the lack of a true revolution against African American injustice through his bureaucratic approach and close ties within the traditional American power structure

Released in the wake of the Civil Right Movement, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” by Gil-Scott Heron is a classic song protesting political passiveness and the dishonest portrayals of African Americans in American media. Advocating for change at Lincoln University, Gil would often write poems and songs to express his objections to various policies on the school’s campus. One day, while Gil and his friends were watching TV in their dorm, he expressed that “people ought to get out there and do something; the revolution won’t be televised.” Years later, Gil recounted that “a cat said you ought to write that down,” a comment that sparked the idea for the classic song.

Gil’s piece aimed to express the unrest in the African American community, as well as inspire a revolution against the injustices present in society. The major corporations and media elite exemplified the unjust aspects of life in the U.S. for a black man or women, so they were to be ignored in the revolution for change. Gil mentions that the revolution will not be sponsored by major corporate entities, such as Xerox, and will instead be “live.” This lyric mentioning Xerox is interesting because they manufacture and distribute copiers, so Gil including them specifically could be interpreted as him saying that the revolution can’t be copied, reproduced, or viewed in any way. The people would have to go out in the street and enact the change themselves – there would be no “re-run.”

I find GSH’s song fascinating in the context of the 1960’s and the Black Power movement, but also how it relates to our current political landscape and levels of technology use. As any citizen of the U.S. who is dissatisfied with aspects of our society, whether it be hate, violence, or sexual assault, should not simply “plug in, turn on and cop out.”