Tracey Emin (1995) ‘Why I Never Became A Dancer’

Why I Never Became a Dancer was made in an edition of ten. It invokes the artist’s early teenage years spent kicking against the boredom of the seaside town, Margate, where she grew up, and experimenting with sex from an early age until she became disillusioned with men and turned instead to dancing. Beginning with the title words written large on a wall, the camera pans around views of Margate significant to Emin’s past, including the school she attended, the sea front, shopping arcades and a dramatic clock tower. This sequence is overlaid with the voice of the artist narrating her story. The video climaxes with her attempt to win the finals of the local disco-dancing competition and escape to London to compete for the British Disco Dance Championship 1978.

And as I started to dance
people started to clap
I was going to win
and then I was out of here
Nothing could stop me
And then they started
(Words from the video narrated by the artist, quoted in Brown, p.29.)

Humiliated by a group of local boys, most of whom she’d slept with, Emin discovered the hypocrisy of small-town attitudes towards liberated female sexuality. The video concludes with the artist twirling around in a large empty room to a song by Sylvester called You Make Me Feel, accompanied by her voiceover: ‘Shane, Eddy, Tony, Doug, Richard … this one’s for you’ as she spins joyfully out of their orbit. The video work is simultaneously a means for the artist to exorcise her humiliation and, literally, to transform an abusive event, albeit long gone, into something positive. The explicitly personal nature of Emin’s art has pushed at the boundaries of what is considered acceptable in art in Britain. Her challenge to conventions has made visible areas of sexual and emotional experience not exposed in this country, in a fine art context, since the 1970s.

It is not known who shot the film, or whether it was scripted.


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