- Where Is the Jazz in Jazzercise?
Dancing toward an underworld of politicized musicality and scholarship, intellectual disobedience and freely chosen marginality that my mentor had meant to define as professional hell, I discovered an underworld filled with people of my ilk.—Suzanne Cusick, “Postscript: Dancing with the Ingrate”1
One does not “do” one’s gender alone. One is always “doing” with or for another, even if the other is only imaginary.—Judith Butler, Undoing Gender2
Would you believe that Diana Krall is joining our playlist this week! We’ll be working abs and core to her song “I’m a Little Mixed Up.”—Jazzercise Facebook page, 20133
It has been over a decade since Suzanne Cusick, in her inimitably elegant and hilarious way, gifted me with a story about an imaginary panel for the American Musicological Society (ams). She credited feminist musicologist Annie Randall, who, in lamenting the abundance of authoritative offerings such as “What Are Isorhythms?,” had proposed a satirical alternative: “What Is Jazzercise?” I roared as Suzanne regaled me with highlights from the spontaneous [End Page 18] planning session that ensued. The title alone filled my jazz studies feminist self with inexplicable joy. Bear in mind that, ten years ago, the incongruity of Jazzercise as a worthy object of study at ams was even more pronounced than it would be today, and oh, what alarms it would set off in academic jazz studies! The very idea of the imaginary panel seemed irresistibly transgressive to someone like me, who took music seriously as a battlefield of social, political, and cultural meaning but whose objects of study and theoretical orientation had so often been deemed unfit. I wanted in.
But Suzanne, a master storyteller, had saved the shocking bit for last, the imaginary moment when the panelists—none of them strangers to skeptical looks at musicology conferences—dropped their blazers to reveal a festival of workout gear. I see them yet: the lineup is long and distinguished—mostly women, but feminist and/or queer men as well; all kinds of bodies and sexual orientations; diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, class, national identities, (inter) disciplines, and training. Together they stretch, twist, and lunge while reading scholarly treatises. The audience squirms, and so might have I, having spent a lifetime recoiling from the normative standardization implied by gendered fitness routines and appropriative uses of the word “jazz.” Instead, I hear myself blurt out: “I have a paper idea . . .”
I pitch my feminist jazz studies contribution: “Where Is the Jazz in Jazzercise?” For that, I would gladly blow my (imaginary?) cool and don the terry-cloth headband of Olivia Newton John. I simply had to be included in this shared vision that seemed to cut to the core of the larger problem: “Where is the feminist musicology that shakes the ground not only at ams but at the many professional fora in which we all so loyally serve, submit, and sometimes present?” Where were the sessions where the scholars I most admired didn’t have to expend their energy in q&as justifying scholarly orientations—feminist theory, critical race theory, queer theory, women of color feminist theory, performance and affect studies, embodiment, and intersectionality? The answer to this larger question, of course, was that they were alive and well in the hallways, the louder corners of the convention center lobbies, the hushed cone-of-silence conversations in those strange architectural divots with two chairs and soft cube-shaped table-pillow things where lost souls seek temporary refuge from notation, as well as those creative and generative separate circuits of knowledge where we also met and still meet: at the thriving Feminist Theory and Music (ft&m) conferences and in the pages of this absolutely vital publishing forum, Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. Intending no slight to any of these vital spaces, I take this opportunity to honor the power of the imaginary Jazzercise panel and whatever other imaginary panels, costumes, and personae may have sustained feminist music scholars when our professional societies failed to recognize us. [End Page 19]
The Jazz Feminist as Jazzercise Incarnate
Back in the 1990s and early 2000s...