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Liberation on the Dance Floor: Rhythm and Resistance in Burgeoning Lesbian and Gay Movements

Craig Jennex
Toronto Metropolitan University
Watson Hall 517

Workshop participants should have read and be prepared to discuss the paper. To obtain a copy, please email Bronwyn Jaques at by Monday, January 30.

This is an early draft of a chapter for Craig Jennex's book Liberation on the Dance Floor: Popular Music and the Promise of Lesbian and Gay Liberation, 1965-1985, forthcoming from Cambridge University Press. In this chapter, Dr. Jennex analyzes the ways that collective queer dance intersected with social anxieties about reproduction, order, and ostensibly proper embodied behaviours. This is part of a broader legacy of social dance as resistance—marginalized communities convening on a dance floor has long been understood as dangerous to the social order and a potential threat to systems of white heteropatriarchy. As part of this chapter, he turns to the Stonewall Inn and its infamous riots of 1969 to examine what critical attention to music and dance can uncover about even the most well-told narratives of lesbian and gay liberation history. 

In the larger book, Dr. Jennex situates collective dance and popular music as fundamental to lesbian and gay liberation movements in North American cities from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. He argues that dance floor participation in this era enabled lesbian and gay individuals to connect with their bodies and the bodies of others, experience a sense of belonging in a broader community, explore their sexual desires and non-normative gender expressions, and enact individual and collective power in a heteronormative reality. For many lesbian and gay individuals in this history, collective dance was the means through which they were introduced to feelings of queer bliss and the transformative promise of liberation. For many, the dance floor was a gateway to other forms of activism. During an era marked by profound harm through homophobic violence at the hands of fellow citizens and the police, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, moralistic representations of gay life, and government agencies that were dismissive of or explicitly hostile to queer life, dancing to popular music allowed lesbian and gay individuals to perceive the possibility of something better.

Craig Jennex is an Assistant Professor of English at Toronto Metropolitan University and a scholar of LGBTQ2+ culture and politics, queer and feminist theory, and popular music studies. He is currently writing a book entitled Liberation on the Dance Floor: Popular Music and the Promise of Lesbian and Gay Liberation, 1965-1985 (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press). He is co-author (with Nisha Eswaran) of Out North: An Archive of Queer Activism and Kinship in Canada (Figure 1 Publishing 2020) and co-editor (with Susan Fast) of Popular Music and the Politics of Hope: Queer and Feminist Interventions (Routledge 2019).

Department of History, Queen's University

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Queen's University is situated on traditional Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe territory.