Baldnobbers on the Branson Strip

"Performing for God and Country: Branson Entertainment and the Rise of the Christian Right"

Joanna Dee Das, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Dance in the Performing Arts Department at Washington University in St. Louis

Dr. Joanna Dee Das examines how performers in the popular tourist destination of Branson, Missouri manifest the idea of “family values,” a key phrase in the lexicon of the Christian Right political movement in the United States. Over the past sixty years, Branson shows such as the Baldknobbers Hillbilly Jamboree and Presleys’ Country Jubilee have created experiences for their audiences that tie normative ideas of family to support for free market capitalism and a narrow, racialized definition of American citizenship. At the same time, this talk will examine the tension inherent in performing normative “family values” in the queer space of the theatre.
 

Joanna Dee Das is an Assistant Professor of Dance at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research interests include dance in the African diaspora, musical theater dance, and the politics of performance in the twentieth century. She is the author of the award-winning Katherine Dunham: Dance and the African Diaspora (Oxford 2017), and her current book project is titled Performing for God and Country: Branson Entertainment and the Rise of Modern Conservatism. She has also published articles in Journal of Urban History, Dance Research Journal, Studies in Musical Theatre, Theatre History Studies, TDR, and ARTS, as well as authored or co-authored book chapters in The Futures of Dance Studies, The Routledge Companion to the Contemporary Musical, and A Critical Companion to the American Stage Musical. In addition to her scholarship, Dr. Das is a Certified Instructor of Dunham Technique and a choreographer. In December 2020, she co-directed a dance film with filmmaker Denise Ward-Brown called Seeking Josephine Baker: Dancing on the Land. Building from this creative project, Dr. Das and Professor Ward-Brown currently run a Mellon-funded Research Working Group that is investigating Ms. Baker’s history in St. Louis.