America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk came out very recently (last November), so I am excited to see how each of you respond to this book. Megan Pugh, who is a poet as well as a cultural scholar, tries to answer the question “What is American dance?” and her attempts to answer this question lead us into a journey of what it means to be American. There is some great stuff here about how American dance is inevitably a dance co-created by African Americans as well as White Americans–and in that category, inclusive of many early immigrants to the states. So, what I’d like you to think about as you go through this book is the following question: What is she missing? There are certainly figures in the book that she barely addresses, or that she skips entirely. Additionally, this is written in 2015 but she ends with the Moonwalk, which is quite far back. What American dances, in your mind and based on her framing of that term, have happened since the Moonwalk that you think deserved a chapter or at least some consideration? What bodies is she rendering invisible by not making them part of this conversation, but that are relevant to American movement? These are the kinds of questions I want to see you explore as you make your way through this book. Additional things I’d like you to think about: How can we think of dance as a kind of text, similar to how we think of books as a kind of text? If we can acknowledge that dance can be seen as a kind of text, what would we call the different styles or languages of this text? In other words, what would we call the language of bachata compared to salsa, tango compared with swing, hip hop compared with ballet, the Twist compared with the Twerk? What bodies are privileged, in your experience, in dance that gets shared on social media, for example? What bodies are marginalized in those same spaces? What struck you in this book? What didn’t you know that stood out to you? What bothered you? What excited you? What did you pause at and say to yourself, I want to see that dance! Because of how American dancing came about, there is discussion ofblackface as well as racial relations in America. How did that strike you? Other thoughts?
For this week, I’d also like you to watch the following videos that represent some of what the writer discusses in the book:Cakewalk: (or feel free to search cakewalk in YouTube and look at a different video)Comedy Cakewalk: Le Cakewalk Inferno (directed by Georges Melies, same as Trip to the Moon): The Little Colonel Stair Dance (one of my favorite dance scenes on film ever, with Bojangles and Shirley Temple): The Nicholas Brothers’ Jumpin’ Jive Dance from Stormy Weather (this is incredible dancing right here!): Gold Diggers of 1933: (or any of the other dance sequences on YouTube for this film, Berkeley’s choreography is legendary and set the stage for much of what people would make with movement in future eras):
Films, for extra credit: I’d like you to watch two Fred Astaire films, Top Hat and Swing Time
After you have read and watched the videos, please write a 1-2 page single-spaced response addressing some of these questions and your response to the material in general.
Megan Pugh’s text: America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk, provides an exciting history of the American dance, the story is told better through the lives of several virtuoso performers who have potentially defined the artistic work. Such American dance history signifies the country’s tangled culture. Additionally, it illustrates how the dancers from the wildly diverse backgrounds in the American Society imitated, stole, and learned from each other throughout the period.
Countrywide, audiences appreciated and acknowledged the outcomes of the dance culture as profoundly American. The author uses the tapper Bill ‘Bojangles, Fred Astaire, and Ginger Rogers, choreographer Paul Taylor, pop dancer Michael Jackson, and ballet dancer Agnes de Mille to tell her story. The author demonstrates how….
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