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date: 29 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

In cultural studies, attention to dance enables a reassessment of the politics of cultural forms, based on a recovery of the embodied subject as the center of meaning-making. Revisited in this light, the film West Side Story is revealed as a cultural defense of youth and play. While the adults in the film work persistently to force the Jets and Sharks into one of two binary categories (serious and mature adults, or innocent and victimized children), the youths make common cause in resisting these categories, through forms of competitive play that sprawl from the playground into the streets, beyond children’s games to the taunting and flaunting and brawling that adult discourses labeled “juvenile delinquency.” Examining three dances, the chapter argues that in West Side Story, as long as conflict is structured as a competition, it remains a cooperative and ordered enterprise. But when competition is disrupted, social frustrations erupt into fatal violence.

Keywords: West Side Story, dance, juvenile delinquency, cultural studies, affect

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