‘Just Because You Teach, Doesn’t Mean It’s Over’: Bunheads and the Pedagogy of Live Performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in a book


Forget Zumba. Let’s all join Sutton Foster’s ‘Pop-Lockin’ Street-Voguing Hippity Hoppity Macarena Jump Class’ instead. Sadly, this only exists in the fictional town of Paradise, where former Vegas showgirl Michelle (Foster) is slowly figuring out how to teach dance. Welcome to ABC’s Bunheads . Written by Gilmore Girls’ creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, Bunheads was a much-loved yet short-lived TV program, supposedly targeted at the young-adult market but proving in reality to have a much broader appeal. Premiering in June 2012 and running for just one season, its cancellation provoked international outcry from fans. The show followed Michelle on her journey from single, jaded performer to sudden wife-turned-widow, to unwilling dance teacher, all in the course of a couple of weeks. This chapter explores the representation of reluctant pedagogy presented by Bunheads , and investigates how online audiences responded to the show and its abrupt cancellation. Viewing its episodes again now, according to one fan, is “like re-opening an old wound that hasn’t completely healed”. For many people, the most interesting aspect of Bunheads was watching the relationship between Michelle and her ensemble of young female students evolve. The eighteen episodes tracked Michelle’s slow transition to mentorship, forced into teaching at her new mother-in-law’s dance school. The chapter investigates the tensions between peer and authority figure that were highlighted during this process—“I’m not a disciplinarian. I’m not a grown-up”—and considers the show’s willingness to pay attention to pedagogical failure as much as to success. However, while Michelle—like Jacques Ranciere’s “Ignorant Schoolmaster”—learns as much from her students as she teaches them, the show simultaneously plays off Foster’s significant proficiency as a Tony Award-winning performer. By investigating actual audience reception, this chapter explores the interplay between mediated pedagogy and “live” learning, explaining how Bunheads used a plot about an incompetent dance teacher to effectively teach people about dance.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching and Learning on Screen
Subtitle of host publicationMediated Pedagogies
EditorsMark Readman
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-57872-3
ISBN (Print)978-1-137-57871-6
Publication statusPublished - 10 Nov 2016


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