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Dance, Girl, Dance!: Performance & Class Mobility in Disney’s Shake It Up

by Ethan Tussey

by Morgan Blue for IN MEDIA RES

In the first few minutes of the pilot for Disney Channel sitcom Shake It Up, lead characters, Rocky Blue (played by Zendaya Coleman) and Cece Jones (Bella Thorne), entertain a smattering of “L” passengers with a dance routine. Their performances, their thrift-store fashions, and the location all help introduce their humor, their talent, and, perhaps most importantly, the working-class, ethnically and racially diverse urban milieu of the series. Here, the girls’ desire for cell phones—and their lack of funds—leads them to dance for money, forging a shared pathway of upward social mobility.

The pilot revolves around the girls’ auditions for a television dance program called Shake It Up Chicago, the host of which positions the girls as potential stars, saying: “Young, funky, great look—you’re perfect!” and “You two got that whole “it” factor. I think our audience is gonna eat you up!” Rocky and Cece hang on his approval, desperate for recognition and desperate for the independence and social status signaled, in part, by affording cell phones, but also by performing their dances on television. Here, professional dancing is part of an updated “American dream” scenario in which visibility and someone else’s recognition of “that “it” factor" are increasingly significant. Rocky and Cece, like others on Disney Channel, are intrinsically motivated to get noticed and to entertain. Their willingness to make themselves publically visible through performance is symptomatic of neoliberal ideals that beget a certain postfeminist expectation of subjectification on the part of girls and women.

Busquing on the “L” platform doesn’t pay off, but it establishes their drive to overcome age-based and economic barriers, their Disneyfied version of streetwise urban-ness, and their need for some (adult) authority to recognize, celebrate, and compensate them for their talents. Rocky and Cece receive their first paychecks in the final scene of the pilot—$40 apiece. But, after the costs of incidentals, transportation, and dance costumes, they find themselves broke again . . . until next time (when they will actually roll around in a shower of their hard-earned dollar bills). The pilot's foregrounding of working-class status is meant to distinguish this show from other Disney sitcoms, but cues to middle-class status abound also, and the girls' desires to perform for an audience overwhelm the external, economic motivations set up early on.

Shake It Up opening

First few minutes of Shake It Up

from Shake it Up (2010)
Creator: Disney
Posted by Ethan Tussey