African-American Concert Dance significantly advances the study of pioneering black dancers by providing valuable biographical and historical information on a group of artists who worked during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s to legitimize black dance as a serious art form. John O. Perpener sets these seminal artists and their innovations in the contexts of African-American culture and American modern dance and explores their creative synthesis of material from European-American, African-American, Caribbean, and African sources.
Perpener begins with Hemsley Winfield, a versatile performer and director whose company, the New Negro Art Theatre, launched the careers of Edna Guy, Randolph Sawyer, and Ollie Burgoyne, among many others. Also profiled are Charles Williams, who directed the Hampton Creative Dance Group at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, and Asadata Dafora Horton, a native African who established himself as the preeminent purveyor of African dance and culture in America during the 1930s. Dafora's African Dance Troupe, which at one point came under the umbrella of the WPA Federal Theatre Project, was a focal point of the famous "voodoo" Macbeth, an all-black production set in Haiti and directed by the young Orson Welles.
Stepping onto the path cleared by these early innovators, two important artists combined dance with anthropology to expand the reach and scope of African-American dance. Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus both studied anthropology and engaged in extensive fieldwork that infused their dances with Caribbean and African influences. Dunham founded two ambitious training schools, one in New York and one in East St. Louis, while Primus's projects included an African Arts Center in Monrovia, Liberia, dedicated to collecting dance material, teaching, and organizing professional performances.
Perpener examines the politics of racial and cultural difference and their impact on these early African-American dance leaders. In particular he documents the critical reception of their work, detailing the rigid preconceptions of African-American dance that white critics imposed on black artists. He also surveys important black dancers and choreographers since 1950, including Talley Beatty, Donald McKayle, Alvin Ailey, Eleo Pomare, Rod Rodgers, and Dianne McIntyre, and discusses how they have extended and diverged from traditions established by their predecessors.
Black Theater Is Black Life fills a critical gap in the history of African American culture in Chicago. Through interviews with prominent producers, directors, choreographers, designers, dancers, and actors, Young and Zabriskie create a portrait of a diverse, dynamic artistic community between 1970 and 2010. They frame this history with helpful guides, including a chronology of key events, a glossary of names, and an appendix of leading performing arts institutions in Chicago.
Few will dispute the profound influence that African American music and movement has had in American and world culture. Dancing Many Drums explores that influence through a groundbreaking collection of essays on African American dance history, theory, and practice. In so doing, it reevaluates "black" and "African American " as both racial and dance categories. Abundantly illustrated, the volume includes images of a wide variety of dance forms and performers, from ring shouts, vaudeville, and social dances to professional dance companies and Hollywood movie dancing.
Bringing together issues of race, gender, politics, history, and dance, Dancing Many Drums ranges widely, including discussions of dance instruction songs, the blues aesthetic, and Katherine Dunham’s controversial ballet about lynching, Southland. In addition, there are two photo essays: the first on African dance in New York by noted dance photographer Mansa Mussa, and another on the 1934 "African opera," Kykunkor, or the Witch Woman.
Katrina Hazzard-Gordon offers the first analysis of the development of the jook—an underground cultural institution created by the black working class—together with other dance arenas in African-American culture. Beginning with the effects of African slaves’ middle passage experience on their traditional dances, she traces the unique and virtually autonomous dance culture that developed in the rural South. Like the blues, these secular dance forms and institutions were brought north and urbanized by migrating blacks. In northern cities, some aspects of black dance became integrated into white culture and commercialized. Focusing on ten African-American dance arenas from the period of enslavement to the mid-twentieth century, this book explores the jooks, honky-tonks, rent parties, and after-hours joints as well as the licensed membership clubs, dance halls, cabarets, and the dances of the black elite.
Jook houses emerged during the Reconstruction era and can be viewed as a cultural response to freedom. In the jook, Hazzard-Gordon explains, an immeasurable amount of core black culture including food, language, community fellowship, mate selection, music, and dance found a sanctuary of expression when no other secular institution flourished among the folk. The jook and its various derivative forms have provided both entertainment and an economic alternative (such as illegal lotteries and numbers) to people excluded from the dominant economy. Dances like the Charleston, shimmy, snake hips, funky butt, twist, and slow drag originated in the jooks; some can be traced back to Africa.
Social dancing links black Americans to their African past more strongly than any other aspect of their culture. Citing the significance of dance in the African-American psyche, this study explores the establishments that nurtured ancestral as well as communal links for African-Americans, vividly describing black dances, formal rituals, such as debutante balls, and the influence of black dance on white culture.
At the New School for Social Research in 1931, the dance critic for the New York Times announced the arrival of modern dance, touting the “serious art” of such dancers as Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey. Across town, Hemsley Winfield and Edna Guy were staging what they called “The First Negro Dance Recital in America,” which Dance Magazine proclaimed “the beginnings of great and important choreographic creations.” Yet never have the two parallel traditions converged in the annals of American dance in the twentieth century.Modern Dance, Negro Dance is the first book to bring together these two vibrant strains of American dance in the modern era. Susan Manning traces the paths of modern dance and Negro dance from their beginnings in the Depression to their ultimate transformations in the postwar years, from Helen Tamiris’s and Ted Shawn’s suites of Negro Spirituals to concerts sponsored by the Workers Dance League, from Graham’s American Document to the debuts of Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, from José Limón’s 1954 work The Traitor to Merce Cunningham’s 1958 dances Summerspace and Antic Meet, to Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece Revelations.Through photographs and reviews, documentary film and oral history, Manning intricately and inextricably links the two historically divided traditions. The result is a unique view of American dance history across the divisions of black and white, radical and liberal, gay and straight, performer and spectator, and into the multiple, interdependent meanings of bodies in motion. Susan Manning is associate professor of English, theater, and performance studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Ecstasy and the Demon: Feminism and Nationalism in the Dances of Mary Wigman, winner of the 1994 de la Torre Bueno Prize for the year’s most important contribution to dance studies.
In this ambitious project, historian Katrina Thompson examines the conceptualization and staging of race through the performance, sometimes coerced, of black dance from the slave ship to the minstrel stage. Drawing on a rich variety of sources, Thompson explicates how black musical performance was used by white Europeans and Americans to justify enslavement, perpetuate the existing racial hierarchy, and mask the brutality of the domestic slave trade. Whether on slave ships, at the auction block, or on plantations, whites often used coerced performances to oppress and demean the enslaved.
As Thompson shows, however, blacks' "backstage" use of musical performance often served quite a different purpose. Through creolization and other means, enslaved people preserved some native musical and dance traditions and invented or adopted new traditions that built community and even aided rebellion.
Thompson shows how these traditions evolved into nineteenth-century minstrelsy and, ultimately, raises the question of whether today's mass media performances and depictions of African Americans are so very far removed from their troublesome roots.
Stepping is a complex performance that melds folk traditions with popular culture and involves synchronized percussive movement, singing, speaking, chanting, and drama. Elizabeth C. Fine's stunningly elaborate and vibrant portrayal of the cultural politics of stepping draws on interviews with individuals on college campuses and steppers and stepping coaches from high schools, community groups, churches, and dance organizations. Soulstepping is the first book to document the history of stepping, its roots in African and African American culture, and its transformation by churches, schools, and social groups into a powerful tool for instilling group identity and community involvement.
It's impossible to think of the heritage of music and dance in the United States without the invaluable contributions of African Americans. Those art forms have been touched by the genius of African American culture and have helped this nation take its important and unique place in the
pantheon of world art.
Steppin' on the Blues explores not only the meaning of dance in African American life but also the ways in which music, song, and dance are interrelated in African American culture. Dance as it has emanated from the black community is a pervasive, vital, and distinctive form of expression--its movements speak eloquently of African American values and aesthetics. Beyond that it has been, finally, one of the most important means of cultural survival.
Former dancer Jacqui Malone throws a fresh spotlight on the cultural history of black dance, the Africanisms that have influenced it, and the significant role that vocal harmony groups, black college and university marching bands, and black sorority and fraternity stepping teams have played in the evolution of dance in African American life. From the cakewalk to the development of jazz dance and jazz music, all Americans can take pride in the vitality, dynamism, drama, joy, and uncommon singularity with which African American dance has gifted the world.
In any age and any given society, cultural practices reflect the material circumstances of people's everyday lives. According to Joel Dinerstein, it was no different in America between the two World Wars-an era sometimes known as the "machine age"-when innovative forms of music and dance helped a newly urbanized population cope with the increased mechanization of modern life. Grand spectacles such as the Ziegfeld Follies and the movies of Busby Berkeley captured the American ethos of mass production, with chorus girls as the cogs of these fast, flowing pleasure vehicles.
Yet it was African American culture, Dinerstein argues, that ultimately provided the means of aesthetic adaptation to the accelerated tempo of modernity. Drawing on a legacy of engagement with and resistance to technological change, with deep roots in West African dance and music, black artists developed new cultural forms that sought to humanize machines. In "The Ballad of John Henry," the epic toast "Shine," and countless blues songs, African Americans first addressed the challenge of industrialization. Jazz musicians drew on the symbol of the train within this tradition to create a set of train-derived aural motifs and rhythms, harnessing mechanical power to cultural forms. Tap dance and the lindy hop brought machine aesthetics to the human body, while the new rhythm section of big band swing mimicked the industrial soundscape of northern cities. In Dinerstein's view, the capacity of these artistic innovations to replicate the inherent qualities of the machine-speed, power, repetition, flow, precision-helps explain both their enormous popularity and social function in American life.
Provocative, moving, powerful, explicit, strong, unapologetic. These are a few words that have been used to describe the groundbreaking Brooklyn-based dance troupe Urban Bush Women. Their unique aesthetic borrows from classical and contemporary dance techniques and theater characterization exercises, incorporates breath and vocalization, and employs space and movement to instill their performances with emotion and purpose. Urban Bush Women concerts are also deeply rooted in community activism, using socially conscious performances in places around the country—from the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center, and the Joyce, to community centers and school auditoriums—to inspire audience members to engage in neighborhood change and challenge stereotypes of gender, race, and class.
Nadine George-Graves presents a comprehensive history of Urban Bush Women since their founding in 1984. She analyzes their complex work, drawing on interviews with current and former dancers and her own observation of and participation in Urban Bush Women rehearsals. This illustrated book captures the grace and power of the dancers in motion and provides an absorbing look at an innovative company that continues to raise the bar for socially conscious dance.