The dance video at http://youtu.be/5HdLfeX6d78 is a 90 second dance representation of the central plot of the novel In and Out of Step by Christine M Knight and its key ideas-belonging, alienation, finding a place.
To understand the dance video, you need an overview of the novel's plot.
1. In and Out of Step (the novel) - Plot Overview
In and Out of Step introduces readers to Cassie Sleight, a young woman who has shut down emotionally after being scarred by a sexual encounter in her mid-teens. Knowing only that she did not want a life in which men inevitably lead and women follow, Cassie leaves the familiar circle of friends and family in search of a seachange. Having discarded her dreams of international dance championships, she accepts a position on the English staff of the local high school in the seemingly idyllic coastal town of Keimera. She is prepared to risk going from the frying pan and into the fire to discover where she belongs.
In Keimera, Cassie meets Mark Talbut, a man Knight describes as struggling to be modern yet threatened by power shifts in the workplace and in society. Cassie’s interactions with Mark and the men in his world cause her to assess her reactions both as a woman and a teacher, and the inevitable questions arise.
In love, at work, and at play – where do you draw a line? Will Cassie find the courage to come to terms with her past, recover from sexual trauma, and have a healthy relationship? How does a society in which dysfunctional workplaces rife with gender, power, and sexual issues change?
In and Out of Step, examines the world in which Cassie Sleight lives, how that world shapes a person for good and bad, and how absolutely every experience contributes to the journey.
The novel explores the very real difficulty a young woman in a new workplace faces when dealing with a man who is perceived as a ‘good guy’ by his male workmates in a time of changing culture. It looks at the very real difficulty in unmasking the wolf in sheep's clothing. The story explores how women who use sex as coinage in the workplace can influence male perceptions of women and blur understanding of what is behaviourally appropriate. In and Out of Step explores the widening ripple effect on the women and the girls living in such a world.
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2. Analysis of the dance video in terms of its central theme: BELONGING and in terms of the way its distinctly visual features contribute to and convey meaning
Cassie Sleight viewed life as a series of dances. The opening still frame of the dance video represents Cassie Sleight’s view of the world.
The dance begins in the same way that the novel ‘In and Out of Step’ does. In the opening pages of the novel, Cassie observes her world through the frame of her car window. As in this dance video, she is unseen because she is an outsider. Her view of the world is filtered through the metaphor of dance.
When the dance begins, Cassie Sleight is off-stage and out of the shot. She does not belong to the group.
The opening dance scene shows that Cassie sees her world as male dominated, a world where men lead and women follow. In the opening seconds of the dance, the men are positioned in the foreground symbolising their leadership role and dominance. Women are placed in the background behind the men, symbolising their follower status.
In the opening freeze frame, the female dancers are in off-balance positions and dependent on their male counterparts who hold power in the dance. The centre male dancer is unpartnered. He represents Jake Dominguez from the novel ‘In and Out of Step’. As the dance begins, the Jake dancer observes the ritual of the dance and the relationships between genders. His observation is conveyed by a sharp head turn. This represents how values and attitudes about relationships are transmitted. That is, we learn about how gender relationships work and how to belong in society from the people around us.
In each dance couple, the male controls the dance. One man twirls his partner, keeping her in the background while the other male dancer overpowers his partner by placing her in a dip. Both women are passive in the dance. The dance then progresses to the dancers moving in unison. During this part of the dance sequence, the women dance with their backs to the men but remain in mirrored unison. This represents how indoctrinated they are in the ritual of the dance. The men always remain in the lead. This shows that within a community belonging involves understanding and acceptance of the community's ritual, language, and conformity to its codes of behaviour.
As the dance progresses, the three men also dance in unison, representing that they have been programmed in the steps. Both male and female dancers are attuned to the rhythm of the dance. They are in step with one another even though the type of steps varies according to gender.
Most of the dancers are costumed in black. Costume reinforces the uniformity in this society and that they belong in that world. One male dancer is dressed in a white T-shirt and black trousers. This represents that although he is accepting of the culture, he is also different in some way. This variation in costume signals that the society is undergoing subtle change.
At 0.16 seconds in the video, a young woman in red enters the dance scene. This dancer represents Cassie Sleight, the protagonist in the novel ‘In and Out of Step’. She is not dancing and does not move in time to the music. Her costume represents that she is the odd one out in this community and does not belong. Her movement also reinforces that she is not in step with the people in that world, that she does not belong. She is in fact passing through that world to an unknown destination.
The Cassie dancer is intercepted by the unpartnered male dancer who attempts to control Cassie dancer’s movement and compel her to join him as his partner in the dance of life. She moves in step with him for a short time, and he controls the dance. Her joining with him in dance represents her knowledge of that style of dance and that she has learnt the passive role that women play in it. Jake dancer’s contact with her is passionate and powerful and shown through gesture and contact. At one stage in the dance, the Jake dancer overpowers the Cassie dancer; she ‘swoons’ in his arms in response to his actions. This sequence is a metaphoric depiction of their relationship in the novel and their sexual encounter when she was sixteen. When Cassie dancer regains her feet and balance, she rejects him. That rejection is represented through gesture and strong powerful movement. At this stage, she moves out of step with Jake dancer and stops dancing. The cessation of the dance represents Cassie dancer’s rejection of that female role in dance as well as her rejection of the code of behaviour needed to belong in that type of community.
At 0.33 seconds in the dance, the dance group return to the screen. They represent the world she knows and that she is leaving. The dance is choreographed so that Cassie dancer is seen to be going in a different direction and out of step with the mainstream of dancers. The metaphors ‘going against the stream’ and ‘odd one out’ are made literal in this scene through the creation of dramatic images that depict her alienation.
At 0.36 seconds, Cassie dancer is alone on the screen, dancing. This represents the transition period between the world she left and in which she grew up to a new world. In the novel, Cassie Sleight rejects the traditional role of women in the world that she grew up in and resolved to leave. She left the familiar circle of friends and family in search of a sea change and began a career as an English teacher on the faculty of high school in a coastal town south of Sydney.
At 40 seconds, the video returns to the dance of traditional society. This section of the dance represents the world to which Cassie dancer has moved. It is exactly the same as the world she left – male dominated and women following the lead of men and indoctrinated in the ritual of relationships. Like the world she has left, there is a male dancer in this world (white T-shirt) who belongs to that world but differs subtly from the group. This variation in costume signals that the society she has entered is also undergoing subtle change.
At 48 seconds in the dance, Cassie dancer re-enters. The dancers are positioned in a line. The same set of dancers are used to show that the same type of people exist everywhere. This section of the dance represents Cassie dancer's quest to find her place in life's dance. She engages with each dancer in this new world in search of a place in life’s dance but moves on whenever her partner tries to control the dance or exert power over her.
At 1.04 minutes in the dance, Cassie dancer comes face to face with Michael dancer, costumed in white T-shirt and black trousers. In the dance sequence with him, neither dancer leads. They appear as a mirror reflection, representing their like-mindedness and similarity in values. They are equal in status. This shows that similarity in values and attitudes play an important part in a person's sense of connection to others and a developing sense of belonging.
At 1.09 minutes, Cassie dancer surrenders power to Michael dancer as he lifts her. The lift relationship reflects the trust between the dancers. It also represents a trigger moment that led to a change in the nature of that society's dance and the way the genders relate to one another.
The lighting flashes at this point in the dance video signalling a new stage in dance and in gender relationships. Cassie dancer is joined by Michael dancer on the floor. This is a new style of dance although it has elements of the traditional dance in it. They are joined by other dancers from that society; this symbolizes the change that has occurred in this community. The dance shows that Cassie dancer was a catalyst for change.
The dance ends in a freeze, a diamond shape with men and women in alternating positions in the line-up. The screen dissolves into fire and then to the book cover for ‘In and Out of Step’. This signifies that Cassie went from the frying pan and into the fire to discover her place in life’s dance. It also shows that although she has found a place to belong, that doesn't mean life is without the heat of conflict.
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