Thursday, March 5, 2015

Elastic Heart: The Semiotic Analysis of Interpretive Dance

I have performed a semiotic analysis of the music video, 'Elastic Heart' by Sia, which features the dancing of Maddie Ziegler of 'Dance Moms' fame and the actor Shia LaBeouf. The music video for the song peaked interest among many social mediums because Ziegler is the star. For those in the audience who are not viewers of Lifetime's series 'Dance Moms', you might initially think that Ziegler is one of the 'mom's. That's what I envisioned when I heard the star of that show was also the star of Sia's newest video. Imagine my surprise when I opened the video and saw a 12 year old dancing in a cage with none other than Shia LaBeouf. My primary question, which lead to the semiotic analysis is: does the age barrier make a difference in the interpretive dance world? I chose this video because interpretive dance interests me and seeing it done in a vastly more unexpected way has made me think about it since it released in early January. The semiotic analysis is a way of evaluating the text more deeply than face value, which is what the majority of society does.

Elastic Heart VEVO

Sia, the artist behind the song is no stranger to interpretive dance. Her recently famous video, Chandelier also features the art of interpretive dance and Maddie Ziegler. This video, however received far less publicity for having Ziegler at the center. It can be assumed that this is because Ziegler is dancing solo around a bleak apartment as opposed to side by side with a [much older] man. The video for 'Elastic Heart' is unique in it's borders as well; Ziegler and LaBeouf are trapped in an aviary-looking cage. The duo appears to be fighting back and forth, he for her attention and she for freedom from him. My interpretation of the video is that Ziegler is embodying a female trapped in a relationship where she has had enough; she physically feels trapped. She has had enough of succumbing to her "thick skin and elastic heart" the lyrics go on to say "I'm like a rubber band when you pull too hard..." Literally, when a rubber band is pulled too hard, it snaps. LaBeouf's character seems to be filled with anguish and longing for his female companion, but he also looks dangerous in a way, further leading to the belief that she is trying to escape the cage. 

The signifiers here are the cage in which she is trying to escape and the lyrics to the song. You see with your eyes that there is some sort of domestic dispute taking place within the confines of the cage and within the lyrics you hear about someone who is trying to be released from said confines. The speaker of the song knows that they have yet to win "And another one bites the dust/ Oh, why can I not conquer love?" Syntadgmatically speaking, you cannot understand one of these signifiers without the other. Without the music and lyrics, the dancing, while beautiful, holds little explanation. Without the dancing, the lyrics and music serve as "just another good club song" or "good song to belt out in your car with your windows rolled down." 

I shy away from using the word "obvious" here, but it is quite possible that the intent of this video is to show how see-saw style the reality of a possessive or unhealthy relationship can be. The choreography is not meant to focus so much on who the dancers are, but what they represent: a man and a woman. I am reminded of "death of the author" theory with the dancers here representing the author of this text. Their personal lives are left at the door before entering the world of interpretive dance and what this video entails. 

There is reality all over the place in this video. Interpretive dance, of course, is cryptic. Much of the meaning behind the dancing is left to experiencing the lyrics of the accompanying song. In deeply evaluating the lyrics to the song prior to, during, and after watching the video (multiple times) I am left to the conclusion that the video is, in many ways, a testimony to releasing oneself from an abusive/controlling relationship that you always end up debating going back into. (SPOILER ALERT: The video ends with the girl outside the cage, with the man attempting to pull her back in).


  1. Hi Meghan, I like your choice of text! I enjoyed reading your analysis because I have watched this music video over and over again, but I always feel confused afterwards. Actually, I didn't know the female character was a young girl the first time I watched it! I thought she was just a small dancer, haha. In your post, you write about the friction between the female character and the male character. Undoubtedly, there's a lot of friction, but I see Maddy Ziegler as a wild, savage animal rather than a civilized person and Shia LaBeouf as a person who is trying to tame her. By the end, they're on friendlier terms, but now he is in the cage and she is not. She is more civilized and he is more savage (screaming, reaching out to her). It's all interpretive, though. It's a vague music video, but that's part of the reason why it's so interesting. What I like about your post is the unique perspective you have about it. Thanks! Janina

  2. Hey Janina, thank you!! Thanks for your input too, it is absolutely up to interpretation and that is why I felt really strongly about choosing this text. The other thing you said that I find interesting is how you didn't know at first that the female dancer was so young. She certainly doesn't dance (or look) young. I think that goes along with the death of the author concept that I briefly touched upon. I really like your interpretation of the video and thanks for adding to the discussion of it!

  3. Love to watch this conversation emerge, too. The fun of semiotics is to look at meaning as a process of construction that reminds us a bit of Rosenblatt. As different readers, we can rearrange contexts in such a way so as to shift the meaning of the even though the texts carry the meaning, the perspective we choose to analyze them from can alter the meaning. Actually, this is the beauty of so much of theory for me: to honor that texts have structures and forms that generate meanings, but to see the power we have to alter and "make" those meanings based on how we choose to approach those structures and forms...