Dancing Bodies in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time


  • Karen Ya-Chu Yang Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University


transnational literature, dance studies, female bodies, hybridity, Zadie Smith


This essay reads Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (2016) as generating innovative and insightful conversations between literary criticism and dance studies. Smith’s novel explores the onstage and offstage performative experiences and challenges of hybridized bodies and hyphenated identities in a transcontinental context. The novel sets up an interactive dancefloor for its leading charactersthe unnamed female narrator and her childhood friend Tracey—both of whom are biracial and live in the working-class neighborhoods of Northwest London. The two characters form an early alliance owing to being the only “brown” girls in their local dance class—the narrator’s father is white and her mother is black whereas Tracey’s father is black and her mother is white. Drawing from cultural studies and dance theories, this essay considers the narrator’s and Tracey’s practices and experiences of dance to discuss the swinging connections and disconnections between selves, bodies, and cultures carried through the two protagonists’ challenged expressions of agency and mobility in glocal and transnational contexts.

Author Biography

Karen Ya-Chu Yang, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University

Karen Ya-Chu Yang is an Associate Professor of Foreign Languages and Literatures at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, Taiwan. She works on contemporary fiction and is chiefly interested in the fields of ecofeminism, animal studies, feminist science, and affect research. Some of her recent publications include “Fit to Breed: Exercise and Sport in Women’s Speculative Fiction,” “Postmodern Literature and Ecofeminism,” and “Female Biologists and the Practice of Dialogical Connectivity in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer.”