What did you think of this first part of the book?
First off, I’m very excited for this book club. I enjoy learning about all the various facets of tap dance, and being able to share that with others (even virtually) is wonderful.
My initial reaction to Jazz Dance is: wow! There are so many dances that I know little about and want to know more. Reading this first section was a good realization of how vast this art form truly is, which is something I knew, but reiteration is always humbling. In the new release of this book, the forward by Brenda Bufalino is a gem.
“…applauded but still misunderstood. Practitioners were required to become evangelists and apologists. This book really helped: it gave us credibility and created vocabulary and context for students, critics, producers, teachers, and archivists.” (p. xii)
That idea of 1) needing credibility and 2) having a reference stood out to me. The importance of being a well-rounded art form. If you think about the fine arts there are entire majors at universities looking at art history. And yet, when you examine dance programs, there is typically a handful (if that) of dance history classes. As Ms. Bufalino points out, this book begins to tap into that.
Throughout this first section there were a few pieces and parts that stood out to me.
1) Hips. Stearns discusses the use of hips throughout this entire section. Immediately the picture of William Henry-Lane (JUBA) with his knee bent high in the air popped into my head. Gene Medler would talk about this picture every semester (studied with him at Elon University) and how he was perfectly prepared to do a shuffle. “It all originates from the hip,” he used to say. But in US history, Elvis Presley is equated to bringing hips to our dances. It was incredibly controversial at the time. But how did it take so long for hips to be part of dance in mainstream culture? It would have been interesting if there was more discussion on Presley’s influence. Why did he include hips? Was it truly that he just felt he had to move that way? Or had he been in clubs and bars, watching others (most likely African Americans) dancing?
2) Evolution. “A minor detail attached itself to Patting Juba in the course of its evolution into a display piece, and then became a part of the more pretentious style of Charleston...” (p. 29) This is a piece of art and culture that I feel sometimes is lost due to the lack of emphasis. As a teacher, I know that it is difficult to dedicate significant time to history in a once-a-week hour class, because parents are paying for “dance”. But this piece is extraordinarily important. As Stearns points out, the infamous “Hambone” is rooted in Patting Juba. Think about how many people we could pull into the tap community if they understood some of the history. I would guess that 95% of American adults know (or at one point knew) the Hambone. To connect it for people that it is rooted much further back would be wonderful. This is something that I have been pondering a lot recently: how do we connect non-tap dancers to the art form? To me, it is a huge piece that we often miss.
3) The entire last paragraph of this section is powerful. Understanding the influence of “peasantry” and “foreign people” on art is one that rings true for all forms. This idea of dance not being able to thrive in a “too highly refined society,” is incredibly well written. I believe dance is extremely primal and is engrained in every human. It is how education and society controls people that dance is no longer apart of people’s lives. For example, if you look at our education system, we begin teaching children that they need to sit still for 6-8 hours a day, starting at ages four and five! Sit still and not move your body, which is unnatural. That is a society stripping dance out of every human being. And this idea of peasantry, the “uneducated”, thus don’t get that rigid constraint.
This turned into a long reaction to a short section, but hopefully it creates some sort of conversation.
One of my impressions is that the authors were referencing dancers and dances from the Americas, inferring their African roots, instead of going back to the source, Africa. The magic of living in future times is that we have more and more access to information. As you're reading, if you're inspired to search online for references please share them here.
Mali wedding dance --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMvGFR2Is1Y
Senegal dance --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qBmOh9cq23o
Ring Shot --- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRy5MoWPyS0