'Like the Voodoos do': Reading identity in the all-singing, all-dancing body of Ann Miller

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Research seminar.
Texan tap dancer and self-described ‘star lady’, Ann Miller, enjoyed a long and consistent career in Hollywood musicals. Rarely cast as romantic lead, and instead appearing as vamp or comedienne, Miller tended to feature in speciality roles designed to explore her own star persona as one of the fastest tappers in the business. With her legs reportedly insured for a million dollars, Miller’s strong association with the Black-identified form of tap and her energetic physical and vocal performance style formed the basis of both her appeal to casting executives and her disruption of typical constructions of white femininity. Her numbers, including notable appearances in Hey, Rookie (1944), On The Town (1949), Small Town Girl (1953), and Hit The Deck (1955), frequently incorporated deliberate musical signifiers of 'non-white' ethnicity to further codify Miller’s presence as liminal.

This paper explores the ways in which Miller’s onscreen musical numbers both promote and disguise the ‘problems’ of her offscreen stardom, focusing in particular on often explicitly racist discourses of exoticism and authenticity. The dual threat and attraction that Miller’s virtuosic body held for Hollywood – and its strategies to exploit and efface her star presence – typify the musical’s celebration of spectacular, individualised virtuosity and its intense anxieties around difference.
Period9 Mar 2022
Held atUniversity of York, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionInternational