Dance Class

On Classism in Dance and Performance

On Classism in Dance and Performance

The TQW Winter School is a festival and conference, experiment and discussion, located between theory and practice. This year, under the title Dance Class, it devotes three days to classism in contemporary dance and performance art.

Classism affects who practices dance and who has access to training, career opportunities and networks. Classism affects what aesthetic criteria are used, what forms are represented on stages and what forms are absent. Classism affects how dance and performance practices are shared and with whom. Classism affects how we work, how precarity intersects with the socio-culturally legitimised work of the artist, which jobs are undervalued and invisibilised. Dance Class invites theorists, artists, curators, artist-researchers, activists, and audience members to navigate affective and pragmatic, strategic and radical, transformational and reformatory responses to classism in dance and performance.

Each day starts with a workshop, followed by a symposium in the afternoon, and lectures, discussions, performances, and DJ sets in the evening.

Workshops by Livia Kojo Alour, Josephine Findeisen, Tomislav Medak

Symposium presentations by Miriam Althammer, Alice Baldock, Katie Beswick, Hannes Bohne, Anna Chwialkowska, Susie Crow, Ellen Jeffrey, Elena Novakovits, Priyonnath Manna Bustee Community Kitchen (Joyraj Bhattacharjee, Srabanti Bhattacherjee, Sandra Chatterjee & Arko Mukhaerjee)

Evening programme by Trajche Janushev & Alina-Michelle Seiler (Red Edition) in conversation with Julischka Stengele, Myassa Kraitt, Susie Flowers, La Terre’ & Sheezus H. Christin

The Winter School will be accompanied by a series of peripheral projects, including a video work by Rosa Cisneros, a podcast by Jan Groos and a reading and resting space curated by Christina Gillinger (TQW Bibliothek). Download peripheral projects

TQW Winter School

All events in TQW Studios are open and free of charge. No previous knowledge is required.

Festival Day 1

In this workshop, Livia Kojo Alour will show how elevating her voice in work crossing the genres of classic entertainment, circus, and theatre has offered the opportunity to defy stereotypes and institutional racism on the intersection of classist and sexist marginalisation. Despite being excluded from higher education in the arts – especially dance – Alour has resisted defeat and built a successful career as a black queer performer. Besides talking about her personal experiences, she will share techniques she uses to make work and discuss the importance of the ongoing decolonising of the performing arts.

Katie Beswick
Embodiment and the working class: habitus and infrapoltics 

Societies such as the USA and UK operate through both explicit and implicit semiotics of class, in which class stratification serves as a powerful means of social control. In these contexts, notions of class perform through structures of relation as well as within the symbolic and material realm. In this way, class intersects with raced and gendered positionalities and can efface the importance of class as a lens for understanding inequalities, and demanding justice. Classed subjects are often aware of their own positions within an overarching structure of inequality, but also subject to classed interpellations (that might be expressed through raced or gendered language), which studies have demonstrated have damaging effects on the well-being of those classed subjects who experience upward social mobility (Crew 2020). In this paper, I want to think about how embodied movement practices might contribute to a semiotics of class, and, when leveraged in certain contexts, bring about moments of social justice. To do so, I apply two theoretical lenses, Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and Scott’s infrapolitics to think about the movement practices of working-class Litefeet dancers in New York City’s subway system, and working-class beatboxers in London’s Battersea Arts Centre. In both cases, I analyse the ways in which physical spaces (the subway and the theatre) are effectively disrupted through movement in order to stage a working-class politics, which draws from a repertoire that might be framed as habitus but might also be understood within the frame of infrapolitics.

Alice Baldock
Butoh Bodies in postwar Japan: Self-annihilation, becoming nothing, and the erasure of the socially marked body  

This presentation is an example of how attention to class, and to how class intersects with both gender and dis/ability and illness, can lead to dance which can reimagine social possibilities. This presentation bridges the historical and the contemporary, by charting the trajectory of ankoku butoh – the ‘dance of utter darkness’ – from its conception by women dancers in the early postwar Tokyo, to its manifestation around the world in the 21st century.  These dancers’ shared idea of the body began in the early postwar context, known as the ‘age of the flesh’, in which male intellectuals from elite institutions postulated that the only source of knowledge one could trust was nikutai, or the flesh body. I show how these ideas were also taken up by a group of women dancers to show that the body was the source of knowledge about the world, but that this knowledge came from paying attention to every-body. The dance that these women created, butoh, developed by incorporating bodies which had become outcast in the social context of postwar Japan. The presentation will demonstrate how the simultaneous attention to, and erasure of these marginalised categories produced a new aesthetic style and consider the potential applications of this style to ways of living for everybody.

Hannes Bohne
(Historical) intersections of class and race in contemporary dance 

This lecture performance explores traces of how social constructs of class and race are possibly intertwined with and present in contemporary dance practices. It will ask who is able to experience and practice contemporary dance as meaningful and artistic, if (and how) social constructs of class and race are still present in contemporary dance. Do teaching and performances of contemporary dance exclude dancers and audiences with certain backgrounds systematically? Based on a historiographic perspective on the beginnings of modern dance in the 1920s in Germany and the influences of ‘Körperkultur’ and ‘Lebensreform’ (including e.g. Yoga practices, ideals of the ‘natural’ body and ‘appropriate’ ways of life), I will argue that some practices of contemporary dance reproduce deeply rooted constructions of class and race. These considerations will be explored in a short experimental and participatory dance practice to question and experience possible constructs of class and race in contemporary dance technique. 

How are sex, art, work, and rights related? What can we learn about class relations, labour rights and capitalism in the public debate on sex work? In conversation with artist Julischka Stengele, Alina-Michelle Seiler and Trajche Janushev – two representatives of the Vienna-based sex worker-led community organisation Red Edition – will discuss hypocrisy, ‘whorearchy’ and the art of hustle and hustle as art.

Festival Day 2

This workshop aims to open a space where complex and sometimes invisible class structures can be understood and negotiated collectively. The starting point is a close reading of Mark Fisher’s Good for Nothing (in English) and Tanja Abou’s Prololesben und Arbeiter*innentöchter (in German), clarifying questions about the texts and exchanging experiences. The second part uses physical exercises to look at embodied aspects of class inequalities, focusing on different physical structures (e.g. skeleton and musculature). To what extent is class a physical experience? How do class inequalities manifest themselves in bodies?

Miriam Althammer
Movements of labour: On the interweaving of dance practices and work environments in modernity  

Using the example of the Loheland women’s settlement, my contribution deals with the construction of new physicality in the interweaving of gymnastics and agricultural-craft practices in German modernity. This dance-educational approach pursued a decidedly sociopolitical aim of shaping the bodies of women – mostly from bourgeois backgrounds – through labour: Dance education did not only take place in the gymnastics hall but was also situated in everyday work activities in the countryside, such as field work, basket weaving and furniture making. This gave rise to a new androgynous, muscular type of woman, which was sometimes heavily criticised as ‘Amazonian’.  In this context, modern settlement projects such as Loheland served as an escape from the big city characterised by industrialisation and urbanisation and at the same time, they brought bourgeois bodies closer to a rural body perceived as natural and primal – and thus closer to a type of working body differentiating itself from working-class bodies in factories. Following this interweaving of dance practices with work environments, the following questions arise: How did agricultural and craft activities, with their focus on physical challenge and exertion, inform women’s perceptions of their bodies and their artistic practice? To what extent did this change not only their physicality but also their attitude as women and citizens of the Weimar Republic? And can these forms of labour be understood as subversive body-based practices in the sense of shifting and questioning the social realities of the time? 

Anna Chwialkowska
Returning to words: Classist exclusions in dance practice through language 

By the age of 33, I decided to overcome my existential anxieties, leave my full-time job, and enrol in an intensive contemporary dance program that took ten months and 3.400 Euros. I now understand that the reason I hadn’t been able to take this step earlier wasn’t solely due to financial reasons. For a person with a working-class migrant background in Germany, in order to dance, the barriers seem higher than those one encounters if aspiring for an academic career. Not only does it require a distinct cultural capital (for example, the way arts are valued in one’s family), but also a different understanding of the body (beyond solely functional), as well as a specific verbal vocabulary. All of these are dispositions that people with working-class backgrounds, haunted by imposter syndrome, have to acquire laboriously. In this talk, I will focus on the subjectivation of individuals in the dance environment, which I will analyse through the lens of my own becoming in the Berlin dance scene, at the intersection of a specific concept of the body and verbal language. I will argue that these are essential to contemporary dance knowledge production. Where does specific verbal knowledge demarcate class distinctions and exclusions in dance? And how do these interfere with embodied practices? Through autoethnographic field research in workshops, dance classes as well as intensive programmes in German-speaking countries, I will highlight cases that depict class struggles appearing in situations such as workshop descriptions, instructions and conversations in the studio, and ultimately in application writing processes.

Ellen Jeffrey
The After-Hours: labour and repetition in (un)conscious bodies

A dancing body holds within itself numerous patternings of movement; sequences of motion that are choreographed, performed, improvised; sequences of motion that are also gestures of labour – serving coffee, making beds, inputting data; sequences of motion that are described as ‘stimming’ – a neurodiverse habit of tapping, rubbing, shaking. And when this body sleeps, the hours of its doing overspill into the hours of its rest, generating a night-time choreography of the body unconscious. Here, a dancing body re-encounters the repetitions of its day. Here, the movement sequences that a dancing body holds begin to seep and merge into one another, generating a blurred rhetoric of concealed mobilities and stilted gestures. There is a hierarchy to the patternings of movement that a dancing body holds: those that are shared (with a public), those that serve (a public), and those that are repressed (in/by a public). What happens when such hierarchies begin to be dismantled – how might this alter ideas of validity placed upon movement and ideas of validity placed upon a dancing body? What parallels might exist between movement performed unseen (after the hours of performance or labour) and movement performed in dream? This short performative lecture will seek to explore the entanglement of such movement patterns and the seeping that exists between them. It will investigate the ways of moving – and the ways of perceiving moving – that are made possible by drawing parallels between the movement that exists in doing and the dancing that exist in dreaming. 

Towards Race, Class and Hoe Tags: The Pedagogy of a Bitch discusses the overt, as well as the covert classism in art and culture and the fact that classism cannot be thought of in isolation from racism and misogyny. Through the archetype of the bitch, Myassa Krait’s performance project KDM Queen of Power formulates a critique of the subtle effects of capitalism: how does pressure to perform, as pressure to conform, inscribe itself in the body and skin? And what is the potential inherent in artistic forms of expression to challenge the idea of excellence? This confrontation exposes degradation and declassification in order to name the hidden mechanisms of exclusion.

Festival Day 3

Modern dance as an art form emerged at the turn of the 20th century amid the consolidating industrial capitalism and imperial land grab. By differentiating itself from social dances, in which bodies and movements were subsumed to commodified entertainment, and from the sphere of factory production, in which bodies and movements were subsumed to machines, modern dance constituted itself around the choreographic exploration of bodies and movements liberated from these coercions. This workshop speculatively explores dance’s constitutive relation to the historical transmutations of labour, how its changing forms of expression and organisation integrated post-industrialisation and how, in the present, they integrate the networked world of on-demand work. This will be a starting point for discussing how labour relations are transforming the conditions for the field and an attempt to devise choreographic propositions based on that experience.

Susie Crow
Defined by Class: the social status of ballet dancers in Britain today 

In Britain, social class is seen to have particular influence; but as a ballet professional, I find it hard to define what social ‘class’ I might be considered part of.  Does this matter? Or might focused consideration of ballet’s perceived class characteristics as an occupation help to identify and address deeply rooted challenges for the art form? Classic definitions of social class and status reveal the ambiguous and contradictory position of professional dancers, the changing social roles and representation of ballet’s dancers over time; from courtiers to professionals, from ‘petits rats’ to respectable middle-class girls, from popular entertainers to avant-garde artists, from institutional employees to precarious self-employed independents, from fashionable elite performers to outdated and derided stereotypes.  How do such embedded perceptions persist in Britain, to what extent do they affect the practice of ballet in the studio, on stage and as portrayed on social media?  Britain’s dance ecology now embraces multiple forms alongside ballet; despite dance’s vestigial presence in general education, academic qualifications in dance have developed at all levels, from graded vocational examinations provided by teaching organisations outside the state curriculum to higher education to doctoral level.  Has this raised the social, economic and cultural status of dance as a profession?  Updating sociological models in response to cultural and social phenomena in the 21st century might help better reflect the changing situation in which dancers strive to maintain careers and make a life in ballet. 

Elena Novakovits
Dear institutions, dear collaborators: am I (t)here? 

Recently, I started identifying myself as a cultural worker in the performing arts field, as it can embrace the multiplicity of positions in which I have been operating throughout my professional trajectory. All of them are situated on the periphery – in and beyond – of the creative process, their labour remaining mostly invisible. Even if one could write a job description for each one of them, always hidden tasks, non-computable working hours, unpredictable needs, and unspoken paradoxes remain. This presentation, in the form of a letter, seeks to uncover how the invisible agency and labour of all ‘peripheral partners’ can generate wider layers of precarity within troubled socio-political contexts and non-transparent institutional models. Keeping a playful format that blends personal experiences, observations, thoughts, testimonies, images and tunes, I will share reflections from my personal journey on this labour that could be reconsidered. How might we deliberate on how the institutions and the central figures of each artistic project shape and enhance the precarious status of these peripheral voices? How, if we enact feminist practices and principles in our field of work, could we revalidate the position and endeavour of every contributor?

Joyraj Bhattacharjee, Srabanti Bhattacherjee, Sandra Chatterjee, Arko Mukhaerjee
Zoom-in from
Priyonnath Manna Bustee Community Kitchen, Howrah, India

Howrah, India, the heart of an iron industry in West Bengal, is home to 4.5 million people, a huge number of whom come from a working-class background. The district has witnessed severe poverty, racial discrimination, marginalisation and factory lockouts in the last four decades. Priyonnath Manna Bustee Community Kitchen, a labour canteen in Bajeshibpur, Howrah, was started in early 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown to feed people living in the nearby slums who are from working class families of the area. It was funded, for example, through online performances. Since then, volunteers and trustees have been running the initiative, finally buying the bit of land necessary and beginning to construct a new building with a fully equipped kitchen, from which the canteen is running, combined with an independent art space. In this hybrid online and video presentation, we will present this independent labour canteen and art space live from Priyonnath Manna Bustee Community Kitchen in Howrah, West Bengal, India. 

Having shared the stage a few times before, Sheezus H. Christin, La Terre’ and Susie Flowers harmonise to create an evening you won’t forget so fast. Tightly woven into Vienna’s queer performance scene, the three artists have an eclectic repertoire of performances and DJ sets. For the closing party of the Winter School, they invite you to watch, have a drink, relax, and dance, as you won’t be able to stand still with the sounds of La Terre’ and Susie Flowers. Fused into the DJ sets, they have prepared surprise performances bringing Vienna’s queer drag scene a little closer to TQW. Let them eat bourgeoiss!!!

In collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna – Performative Kunst