Raving on: Exploring the construction and consumption of dance music experiences
Jones, Dewi Huw
Cardiff Metropolitan University
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Whilst dance culture and 'clubbing' has exerted a huge influence on worldwide youth culture in recent decades, academic engagement with this leisure phenomenon has been limited both in scope and in methodological approach. In this thesis I adopt an interpretive, auto-ethnographic research approach to exploring contemporary dance culture with the aim of furthering alternative interdisciplinary approaches to leisure research. I also seek to broaden our understanding of the area by shifting the focus of attention to new areas of enquiry (specifically clubbers' motivations and preferences and the role of the dance music media), In addition, I examine the usefulness of the performance metaphor in understanding dance culture and argue for the conceptualisation of dance events as liminal spaces. Informed by a constructionist epistemological perspective, the thesis investigates the social realities of the dance culture participants and attempts to reveal the many and varied influences which shape the socio-cultural construction of dance culture. As would be expected in an auto-ethnographic approach, the thesis begins with an account of my own involvement in dance culture, followed by a contextualisation of contemporary dance culture which examines its development from illegal raves and warehouse parties into a highly structured/ commercialised leisure activity. This overview of the nature of dance culture also provides a critique of the academic literature on the topic and assesses work which has discussed its evolution and 'legitimacy' as an authentic youth subculture. The study approach is then outlined and the methods (namely auto-ethnography, participant observation, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, online conversations and textual analysis) presented and discussed in detail, The thesis reveals the many and complex influences which attract clubbers to particular dance events and analyses contemporary dance culture under the themes of: the significance of travel; visual spectacle and the role of crowds; dress and performance; altered states; dance culture as youth culture; dancing, acceptance and belonging; the role of the media; and the influence of DJs. It emerges that issues of identity development, performance and self-fulfilment are central to participation in dance culture and I suggest that there are numerous parallels between immersion in dance culture and religious experiences. Participants described their travel to major dance events as spiritual journeys and notions of pilgrimage, visual spectacle, congregation and collective 'worship' imbue their accounts of their experiences. Analysis of the dance music media focusing on the role of DJs in dance culture also revealed powerful discourses of originality, authenticity and performance, Such discourses not only position these individuals as 'high priests' of dance music but also affirm the construction of dance sites as spaces of hedonism, liminality and the performance of alternative identities, Whilst the thesis attempts to provide an insight into the world of contemporary dance culture, it does not offer definitive conclusions; indeed, I would argue that it would be inappropriate to do so. Thus my final chapter is more of an epilogue and it considers the potential offered by incorporating diverse methodologies into the study of leisure and outlines an agenda for future research into dance culture and cognate areas.
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