Upon seeing the press release from Dance Mission Theater for The Butterfly Project's Black History Month, an ex-dancer friend and I both asked what constitutes "black dance"? How is it linked to jazz and tap? Or perhaps, a broader question can be asked: what constitutes "American dance"?
Does anyone have any thoughts?
I think Dunning explains it well. It might be useful to go at it by posing the diametrically opposite question: How is it that European culture was able to hijack the notion of what dance should be, as if Europeans were annointed with some special dance primogeniture rights in the world? This is not to dis ballet or the folkloric and less folksy traditions of Western Europe, but it does seem a little strange to be inquiring about the definition and authenticity of the term "Black dance." This is a genre which has its roots in Yoruba ritual dances brought to Cuba and Haiti, the impact of slavery on the African-American population in the United States, including the use of a wide variety of music--blues, jazz, gospel, hip hop, rap and ragtime--that many non-Black choreographers use also, and the imposition of certain oppressive, unreasonable, dismissive and trivializing, as well as romantic constraints and expectations on Black "entertainers." This is perhaps best exemplified in Ben Vereen's Pagliacci-like rendering of Bert Williams, complete with blackface (Williams was light-skinned and compelled to darken his skin when he danced), at the Reagan inaugural ball, which drew criticism from those inclined toward "radical" critiques. Included in this same broad genre is the inventiveness of Kathryn Dunham (who drew on her background in anthropology to infuse her work with historical authenticity), the Modern Dance tilt of Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison and Donald McKayle, the balletic gyrotechnics of Alonso King and the Balanchine-influenced and supported DTH, post-apartheid South African ballet, and the performance art creativity of Robert Henry Johnson, Robert Moses, and Bill T. Jones. Now to the stage from one of the most beleaguered nations on the African continent comes Faustin Linyekula and Studio Kabako, inflecting modern African culture and sensibility into the body of work. Yes, I'd say that there's such a thing as "Black Dance." It doesn't stand alone; it is not immune to European influence or technique (but neither is "white" dance "ethnically cleansed" of influence from other traditions). Why worry? I mean, it's not as if "white" dance sets some kind of bar for other or older traditions to meet, match or surpass