Key Works, Artists, Events, Venues, Texts
Black Dance on U.S. Stages in the 20th Century
Compiled by Susan Manning
1897 In New York Bert Williams and George Walker play a leading vaudeville
house for forty weeks. The highpoint of their act is the cakewalk with seven couples in “fancy dress.”
1903 Williams and Walker write the book and perform the lead roles in the first
all-black show to play Broadway, In Dahomey. With music by Will Marion Cook and lyrics by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the show ends with Walker and his wife Ada Overton Walker leading a “Cakewalk Finale.” In New York and later in London, white elites take up the cakewalk, often under the instruction of Ada Overton Walker.
1905 The Whitman Sisters move to Chicago and their shows include dancing as
well as cross-dressed songs and skits. Over the next three decades, the company tours both the black and white vaudeville circuits, giving innumerable dancers their start, including Bill Robinson and Jeni LeGon.
1913 Darktown Follies opens at the Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, produced,
composed, and written by J. Leubrie Hill. The show features tap, ballroom, and acrobatic dancers in the strut, tango, mooche, ballin’ the jack, and Texas Tommy. A few white spectators come uptown to see the show, including Florenz Ziegfield, who attempts to stage an imitation at his theatre downtown.
1914 James Reese Europe forms a small orchestra called the Tempo Club to
accompany Vernon and Irene Castle in their performances and lessons for white patrons. Europe serves as a crucial conduit for the transmission of ragtime dance and music from black dance halls to white ballrooms.
1917 Lieutenant James Reese Europe recruits musicians to serve in the 15th
Regiment of the New York Guard, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters” during the First World War. Among the soldier-musicians who introduce jazz to European audiences are Bill Robinson and Noble Sissle.
1921 Shuffle Along becomes a huge commercial success on Broadway, spawning
numerous imitations over the next decade. With music by Eubie Blake, lyrics by Noble Sissle, a book by performers Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, and choreography by Lawrence Deas, the work sets familiar steps—“shuffles, slides, marches, struts, shimmies, strolls, and slow-drags; tangos, hesitations, and dips; one-steps, two-steps, and foxtrots”—to the “speeded-up tempos, offbeat rhythms, and swinging rhythmic propulsions of early jazz” (Hill, Tap Dancing America, 71).
1923 The Cotton Club opens in Harlem, drawing an all-white clientele to see all-
black talent. Among others, Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway provide the music, the Nicholas Brothers and Earl “Snakehips” Tucker the dance entertainment. Clarence Robinson choreographs the female chorus line. The club moves downtown in 1936 and loosens its restrictive seating policy.
1925 Alain Locke’s edited volume The New Negro includes poems and images of
dancers, but no critical essays on dance comparable to the essays on drama, music, and literature.
1925 Josephine Baker, having first made her name in Sissle and Blake’s Chocolate
Dandies, makes her Paris debut in La Revue Nègre.
1926 The Savoy Ballroom opens in Harlem and becomes a venue for significant
innovation in music and dance, notably the Lindy Hop and swing. The ballroom can hold up to 7000 patrons, and white dancers join the majority black clientele. Herbert White gathers the best dancers into professional groups that tour with the house bands and appear in Hollywood movies, including Hellzapoppin’ (1941).
1928 Bill Robinson, known for his “upright and swinging” style of tap, stars in
Blackbirds of 1928, bringing his signature “stair dance” from vaudeville to Broadway.
1930 James Weldon Johnson’s Black Manhattan periodizes the history of “Negro
theatrical and artistic effort”: the first period of black minstrel troupes in the 19th century; the second period of musical comedies (Williams and Walker, Darktown Follies) from 1890 to 1916; and the third period from 1917 to the present that encompasses New Negro drama and black-cast musicals. This historiography does not separate dance from dramatic and musical theatre.
1931 In New York Hemsley Winfield and Edna Guy present their choreography in
what they call “The First Negro Dance Recital in America.” Winfield had worked in the Little Theatre movement in Harlem and in Greenwich Village, and Guy had studied with Ruth St. Denis while also working as her maid. The concert relies on private patronage rather than commercial appeal.
1932 In New York Zora Neale Hurston presents The Great Day, based on fieldwork
she undertook in Florida and the Bahamas in 1929-30. Trained in anthropology by Franz Boas at Columbia, Hurston publishes her research in the Journal of American Folklore and also translates her research into stage performance. Determined to create an alternative to Shuffle Along and its many descendants, Hurston aims to create “a real Negro theatre” by dramatizing a day in the life of a Florida work camp, ending with a spectacular Fire Dance.
1933 The Workers Dance League organizes a forum on “What Shall the Negro
Dance About?” in Harlem. Hemsley Winfield performs, but the audience responds more enthusiastically to Black and White, an interracial agit-prop work choreographed by Edith Segal, an avowed Communist.
1933 At the Chicago World’s Fair Katherine Dunham, a dancer and student of
anthropology at the University of Chicago, stars in Ruth Page’s La Guiablesse, staged to music by William Grant Still and based on a Martinican folktale; the plot turns on a “She-Devil” (Page) luring a young woman (Dunham) away from her beloved.
1934 Zora Neale Hurston publishes “Characteristics of Negro Expression” and
“Spirituals and Neo-Spirituals” in The Negro Anthology, edited by Nancy Cunard. Hurston catalogues traits that later scholars would term “Africanisms in American culture,” and sets up an opposition between authentic and inauthentic expressions of black culture that would have equally far-reaching implications.
1934 In New York Asadata Dafora, an immigrant from Sierra Leone, stages
Kykunkor, what he calls a “native African opera,” to great acclaim. The work dramatizes how a Witch Woman casts a spell on an engaged couple, a spell broken by a Witch Doctor. (Dafora takes the role of the Bridegroom.)
1935 Dunham travels to the Caribbean to undertake ethnographic fieldwork,
supervised by Melville Herskovits. Two years later Zora Neale Hurston visits some of the same sites on her ethnographic field trip to the Caribbean.
1937 Edna Guy and Allison Burroughs organize a “Negro Dance Evening” at the
Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YHMA) on 92nd Street, with works by themselves as well as Katherine Dunham and Asadata Dafora. The program order suggests a commitment to leftist politics.
1937 The American Negro Ballet makes its debut at the Lafayette Theatre, with a
curtain speech by James Weldon Johnson. Directed by German émigré Eugene Von Grona, the company survives for only a few seasons.
1937 A short-lived, left-leaning dance publication, Dance Herald, includes essays
by black authors, including Alison Burroughs, Katherine Dunham, Edna Guy, and Florence Warwick (dance instructor at Spelman College).
1938 In Chicago Dunham choreographs L’Ag’Ya for the Federal Theatre Project;
the plot turns on the attempt of Julot to use sorcery to estrange Loulouse (Dunham) from her beloved Alcide. At the end Alcide defeats Julot in a martial arts dance, the l’ag’ya which Dunham had observed during her fieldwork in the Caribbean.
1939 On Broadway the Swing Mikado, originated by the Negro Unit of the Federal
Theatre Project in Chicago, plays opposite the Hot Mikado, starring Bill Robinson and the Savoy Lindy-hoppers.
1940 Dunham moves to New York with her company, and the program Tropics
and Le Jazz “Hot” becomes a sensation, launching Dunham and her company on a cross-country tour, engagements on Broadway and in Hollywood. The program order suggests the transmission of dances from Africa to the Caribbean to the United States.
1941 Dunham writes a critical essay devoted solely to dance, “The Negro Dance,”
which is published in Negro Caravan, edited by Sterling Brown. Applying theories of acculturation, Dunham’s essay traces diverse dance forms from rural to urban areas in the Caribbean and in the U.S., theorizing the performance of diaspora that informs her concert programs. Taken together, Hurston’s 1934 essays and Dunham’s 1941 essay suggest both “roots and routes” for black dance.
1941 Melville Herskovits publishes The Myth of the Negro Past, which cites
Dunham’s research on dance in the Caribbean and Hurston’s research on folklore in Florida and the Bahamas.
1943 Twentieth-Century Fox releases Stormy Weather, a fictionalized biopic of Bill
Robinson that features Lena Horne, the Nicholas Brothers, Fats Waller, Katherine Dunham and her troupe. The film popularizes and circulates the historiography of Negro theatre scripted between the two world wars in the black press and, to a lesser extent, in the theatre press and the leftist press.
1943 Pearl Primus makes her choreographic debut at the YMHA on 92nd Street,
and within two years appears on Broadway. She also becomes a fixture at Café Society, an interracial leftist nightclub.
1945 The Katherine Dunham School of Arts and Research opens on 43rd Street and
teaches cultural studies as well as varied dance techniques. The school remains in operation until 1957.
1947 The Dunham Company embarks on the first of many international tours,
which continue through the early 1960s. On its French tours from 1948 to 1953, Leopold Senghor, the theorist of Negritude then resident in Paris, becomes a fan of the company, and when he becomes president of a newly independent Senegal in 1960, he models the National Ballet on Dunham’s example.
1947 Talley Beatty, a former member of the Dunham company, premieres his work
Southern Landscape, based on Howard Fast’s left-leaning historical fiction of Reconstruction. The complete work is soon dropped from the repertory, but the solo Mourner’s Bench survives until the present.
1947 John Lovell Jr. publishes a six-part series in Crisis that explores the history
and surveys the contemporary situation of “Negro theatre”—a category that includes dramatic theatre, opera, musicals, and Broadway appearances by Pearl Primus and Katherine Dunham.
1947 Edith Isaacs, editor of Theatre Arts Monthly, publishes The Negro in the
American Theatre and her survey includes Williams and Walker, Shuffle Along, Bill Robinson, Josephine Baker, Kykunkor, Katherine Dunham, and Pearl Primus. Isaacs credits James Weldon Johnson’s Black Manhattan and sees her task as to update his account.
1948 Primus travels to Africa with support from the Rosenwald Foundation, and
after her return two years later, she drops social protest dances from her repertory and focuses on teaching and performing African dance.
1948 The Palladium Ballroom opens at Broadway and 53rd and becomes a center
for Latin music and for the development of Latin dance, notably the mambo and the cha-cha. The ballroom remains in operation until 1966.
1949 Alvin Ailey enrolls in dance classes at the Lester Horton Dance Theatre in Los
Angeles and joins the company two years later. A white dancer and choreographer, Horton integrates black dancers into his company and school to a greater extent than do most other modern dancers at the time.
1951 Janet Collins, a former dancer at the Lester Horton Dance Theatre, becomes
the first black ballet dancer employed by the Metropolitan Opera. During her three seasons at the Met, she also tours a program of her own solos set to spirituals and classical music.
1954 Ailey moves to New York and appears in the musical House of Flowers,
choreographed by Herbert Ross. Other dancers in the production are Donald McKayle, Carmen de Lavallade, Geoffrey Holder, and Arthur Mitchell.
1955 Arthur Mitchell is the first black dancer to join George Balanchine’s New York
1956 Dick Clark takes over as host on the television series American Bandstand,
disseminating new social dance styles to American youth. Although many black bands are featured, only white teenagers appear on the show. After 1971 many viewers choose instead to watch black teenagers demonstrating new styles on Soul Train.
1957 Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story opens; the choreography by Jerome
Robbins exemplifies the practice of Broadway jazz, a dance style innovated by white choreographer Jack Cole in the 1940s that moves jazz rhythms from the feet to the whole body by fusing jazz accents with modern and ballet movement vocabularies. Donald McKayle dances in the chorus.
1958 The newly created Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre premieres Blues Suite at the
YMHA on 92nd Street, with costumes and décor by Geoffrey Holder.
1959 Donald McKayle, who had first studied dance with Pearl Primus, premieres
Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder at the 92nd Street YMHA, a work dramatizing life on a Southern chain gang and abstracting the movement motif of bondage and freedom.
1960 Ailey company premieres Revelations at the YMHA on 92nd Street, a suite of
dances set to spirituals that dramatizes the passage from suffering through initiation or baptism to rebirth. Revelations becomes the mainstay of the company repertory and the single-most performed work of modern dance and black dance on the concert stage.
1963 Primus publishes “Africa Dances” in Africa Seen by American Negro Scholars,
an English-language publication by Presence Africaine.
1965 Cholly Atkins, a leading tap dancer in the 1930s and 1940s, finds a new
career coaching and choreographing for bands on the Motown label. Among the many groups he coaches are the Supremes and the Temptations.
1965 Dunham retires from performing and settles in East Saint Louis to pursue
arts as a means for community development. Her school and student company become a model for how the arts may empower urban youth. The East Saint Louis school later becomes the center for professional training in Dunham technique.
1966 Dunham attends the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar. The Alvin
Ailey Company represents American dance, displacing a company that Arthur Mitchell had put together at the request of the State Department. Dunham invites members of the Senegal National Ballet to return with her to East Saint Louis. Among these dancers, Zakariya Diouf goes on to found the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company in Oakland in 1975.
1966 Eleo Pomare’s company premieres Blues for the Jungle at the 92nd Street Y.
The dance provides a black nationalist view of African American dance, with sections titled “Slave Auction,” “Behind Prison Walls,” “Preaching the Gospel,” “View from a Tenement Window,” “Junkie,” and “Riot.”
1967 A special issue of Dance Scope devoted to “The Negro in Dance” features essays
by young black dancers. The white editor Mark Zalk summarizes the questions raised by, among others, Rod Rodgers and Gus Solomons Jr.:
Is ballet, as many of the writers declare, “a white man’s dance,” all but closed to the Negro performer? Has modern dance, seemingly receptive to all possibilities, in fact proscribed the type of dance a Negro can choreograph? Has all dance severely type-cast the Negro, forcing him into certain conventions that are determined by his color rather than his talent?
The essays also demonstrates the overlapping usage of “Negro,” “Afro-American,” and “Black.”
1968 Marshall and Jean Stearns publish Jazz Dance: The Story of American
Vernacular Dance, a survey from Williams and Walker to Honi Coles and Cholly Atkins. The Stearns are pessimistic and do not see contemporary developments—notably, Broadway jazz and rock and roll dancing—as worthy of the earlier tradition. Introducing ”vernacular dance” as a central category for analysis, the Stearns recover the danced dimension of jazz music from the turn of the 20th c until the years surrounding World War II.
1969 Tap dancers from mid-century—Chuck Green, James Buster Brown, Jimmy
Slyde—come out of retirement and perform regularly at a Times Square hotel, sparking a tap revival and disproving the Stearns’ fear that “jazz tap” is a dying tradition.
1969 Arthur Mitchell founds the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a school and company
devoted to showcasing black dancers in ballets from the classical and contemporary repertory.
1970 Carole Johnson, a dancer with Eleo Pomare, launches The Feet, a monthly
journal devoted to Black Dance. The inaugural issue sets out an ambitious list of goals, including creating more employment for black companies, taking dance performances into black communities, developing an archive on black dancers and choreographers, and helping black colleges find teachers. A subsequent issue defines the term Black Dance as “any form of dance and any style that a black person chooses to work within…Since the expression ‘Black Dance’ must be all inclusive, it includes dancers that work in (1) the very traditional forms (the more nearly authentic African styles), (2) the social dance forms that are indigenous to this country which include tap and jazz dance, (3) the various contemporary and more abstract forms that are seen on the concert stage and (4) the ballet (which must not be considered solely European.).” The Feet ceases publication in 1973.
1970 Joan Myers Brown founds Philadanco, a repertory company in Philadelphia
devoted to the works of black choreographers. Philadanco becomes a model for other regional black dance companies.
1972 Muntu Dance Theatre is founded in Chicago as one of many companies and
schools in the U.S. devoted to disseminating traditional African dances and bringing together African American and African immigrant dancers.
1972 Dianne McIntyre, who had danced with Gus Solomons Jr., founds Sounds of
Motion in Harlem, a school and company dedicated to developing an improvisational aesthetic through collaboration with jazz musicians and poets. Ntozake Shange studies and performs with McIntyre, and McIntyre choreographs several of Shange’s stage productions, including Spell #7 in 1979.
1972 Lynne Fauley Emery, a white historian and dance professor, publishes Black
Dance from 1619 to Today, with a preface written by Katherine Dunham. The volume synthesizes existing research, intending to provide “a documented, historically accurate account of the dance performed by Afro-Americans in the United States” and to prompt future research.
1973 The First National Congress on Blacks in Dance is held at Indiana University.
1975 Archivist Joe Nash and critic William Moore create a new journal Dance
Herald: A Journal of Black Dance, named after the leftist journal from the late 1930s that featured essays by pioneering black concert dancers. The journal ceases publication in 1981.
1977 Chuck Davis founds the annual festival, Dance Africa, to bring together the
many African-dance companies now established in the U.S. with companies from abroad.
1980 Revisiting the special issue of Dance Scope, Julinda Lewis Williams surveys
dance-makers who affirm the continued relevance of the term Black dance. In fact, Joe Nash and William Moore, coeditors of Dance Herald, are offended that she poses the question. Rod Rodgers responds:
The theatrical manifestation of what we call Black dance is as real and relevant as the uniquely diverse Afro-American culture that it represents. As long as Black Americans have reason to be concerned about the specialness of our identity and as long as we see evidence that our interpretation of our own experience is significantly different from the depictions of our heritage and culture by the establishment media and arts, there will be a justification for continuing to cultivate and support separate Afro-American arts generally and dance artists specifically.
1980 In the journal Freedomways Zita Allen, the first black critic hired by Dance
Magazine, critiques the myriad and vague usages of the term Black dance:
What is ‘Black Dance’? Is it Alvin Ailey’s racially-mixed company in his soul-stirring masterpiece Revelations, but not American Ballet Theatre’s performance of his more abstract ballet The River? Is it Dance Theatre of Harlem’s percussive, pelvic thrusts in Geoffrey Holder’s Dougla, or its distinguished adaptation of the Romantic ballet Giselle, or the company’s crisp neoclassicism in George Balanchine’s Concerto Barocco? Is it Charles Moore’s brilliant recreation of Asadata Dafora’s Ostrich, Pearl Primus’s classic version of the Fanga, or any other stylized reproduction of authentic African dances? Is it works whose themes reflect the unique Afro-American experience, like Donald McKayle’s Games, Talley Beatty’s Road of the Phoebe Snow, or Eleo Pomare’s Blues for the Jungle, but not more abstract works by these same choreographers? Is it choreographer Blondell Cummings’ own Chicken Soup but none of her work with white choreographer Meredith Monk? Does the label apply to works by Bill T. Jones, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, and other experimentalists who emphasize form more than content and make no thematic reference to the broad-based Afro-American experience?....Or, is ‘Black Dance’ just an empty label devised by white critics to cover that vast, richly diverse and extremely complex area of dance they know nothing about? Does “Black Dance” really exist? And, if in fact it does, just who is qualified to define it?
Together, Williams’ survey and Allen’s query vivify a debate over the meanings of “Black dance” that has continued into the present.
1981 White dance critic Sally Banes writes about breaking in The Village Voice.
Two years later Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style and Hollywood’s Flashdance bring the form into broad public view.
1982 Ismael Houston-Jones puts together a two-week series at Danspace called
Parallels featuring eight downtown artists, including Gus Solomons Jr, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, and Blondell Cummings. His program note states, “If there is an implicit ‘message’ to be gotten from this series, it is that this new generation of black artists—who exist in the parallel worlds of Black American and of new dance—is producing work that is richly diverse.”
1982 After capturing the attention of the downtown dance public in New York with
a series of duets, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane start a company. Over the next six years, until Zane’s death from AIDS in 1988, the company premieres over 30 new works.
1983 Michael Jackson releases the music videos Beat It! and Thriller. While Beat it!
pays homage to the street fight at the opening of West Side Story, Thriller recalls a long tradition of “dances of death.” Michael Peters, who had worked with Alvin Ailey and Talley Beatty, choreographs both music videos.
1983 A conference titled Dance Black America, held at the Brooklyn Academy of
Music, features works by Muntu Dance Theatre, Asadata Dafora, Katherine Dunham, Talley Beatty, Alvin Ailey, Eleo Pomare, Chuck Davis, Dianne McIntrye, Blondell Cummings, and Rock Steady Crew. A documentary film released the following year, narrated by Geoffrey Holder, broadly circulates a historiography of “black dance” that emphasizes the African and Caribbean roots for black dance in diverse genres.
1984 Jawole Zollar, a student of Dianne McIntyre, founds her own company Urban
Bush Women, and three years later she joins other downtown artists from the Parallels series for a brief European tour.
1985 The New York Swing Dance Society is founded and jump-starts the swing
revival, which relies on the teaching and mentorship of Frankie Manning, Norma Miller, and other former stars at the Savoy Ballroom.
1987 Historian Sterling Stuckey publishes Slave Culture: Nationalist Theory and the
Foundations of Black America, arguing for the centrality of the Ring Shout to Black culture, most especially to spirituals and jazz dance.
1987 The American Dance Festival (ADF) launches a project titled “The Black
Tradition in American Modern Dance,” designed to bring attention to Primus, McKayle, Beatty, and Pomare as “modern dancers” as well as “black dancers.” A booklet published with the series includes an excerpt from Zita Allen’s Freedomways essay, retitled “What is Black Dance?” In another essay in the booklet, Brenda Dixon-Stowell writes, “Black dance remains undefined, but Black dancers are defined and delimited, so to speak, by the white consensus that Black dance and Black dancers are synonymous.”
1987 Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre reconstructs a program by Katherine
Dunham, which anticipates a revival of interest in her work.
1988 Joan Myers Brown spearheads the founding of the International Association
of Blacks in Dance.
1990 Two years after the death of Arnie Zane, Bill T. Jones premieres Last Night at
Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land, a full-evening work that deconstructs Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel and ends with a scene of nude dancing for the company members and community volunteers.
1993 “African American Genius in Modern Dance” titles a subsequent booklet
published by the American Dance Festival in its continuing project to remount the works of black modern dancers. The booklet publishes an important essay by Caribbean studies scholar VèVè Clark on Katherine Dunham, which theorizes her “research-to-performance methodology” and her performance of the “memory of difference.” As academic studies come to the fore, “African American” replaces “Black” as a term of choice.
1993 Literary critic Eric Sundquist publishes To Wake the Nations: Race in the
Making of American Literature and discusses the Cakewalk as a paradigmatic example of the interdependence of black and white culture in the U.S. Sundquist’s example prompts younger literary critics—Daphne Brooks, Jayna Brown, Stephanie Batiste—to turn their attention to dance and performance.
1994 Bill T. Jones’ premieres Still/Here, a full-evening work based on workshops
the choreographer had conducted with terminally ill patients. Arlene Croce refuses to review the work, calling it “victim art” and unleashing an episode in the “culture wars.”
1995 Urban Bush Women premieres Batty Moves, a work that juxtaposes and
combines the vocabularies of African dance and modern dance.
1996 Savion Glover, a tap prodigy who had performed with many of the elders in
the tap revival, premieres Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk, which parodies Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers in its embodied history of percussive dance from the Great Migration to hiphop.
1996 Jacqui Malone publishes Steppin’ on the Blues: The Visible Rhythms of African
American Dance, which extends the Stearns’ definition of vernacular dance to a range of genres, including marching bands and stepping at historically black colleges. Her title alludes to Albert Murray’s 1976 classic Stomping the Blues.
1996 Brenda Dixon Gottschild publishes Digging the Africanist Presence in
American Performance: Dance and Other Contexts, a study that pushes the thesis of Africanism in American culture to its limit and generates the potential for an intercultural historiography.
1997 Ralph Lemon premieres Geography, a full-evening work for a group of male
dancers from the United States and from the African diaspora and the first in a trilogy of works exploring race and culture.
2000 Rennie Harris, a break dancer turned hiphop choreographer, tours Rome and
Jewels, his adaptation of Shakespeare and West Side Story.
2001 PBS releases the three-part documentary Free to Dance, which interrelates
the history of black dance and modern dance, inspired by the ADF initiative on “The Black Tradition in American Modern Dance.”
2001 John Perpener, a consultant for Free to Dance, publishes African-American
Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond, a study that recovers the work of Hemsley Winfield, Edna Guy, Asadata Dafora, among others.
2002 Thomas DeFrantz‘s edited anthology, Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in
African American Dance, is published. His introduction historicizes and contextualizes the debate over shifting usage of “African American dance” and “Black dance.”
2003 Reggie Wilson collaborates with a dance company in Trinidad and a music
group in Zimbabwe to tour Black Burlesque (Revisited). The work juxtaposes and combines Africanist and postmodernist elements.
2008 Jawole Zollar premieres a collaboration with Germaine Acogny, the
“godmother” of contemporary African dance, titled Les écailles de la mémoire (The Scales of Memory). Zollar’s all-female company teams up with Acogny’s all-male company.
2010 Constance Valis Hill publishes Tap Dancing America: a Cultural History, a
comprehensive history that historicizes tap as a fusion of Africanist principles with Irish clog and that corrects the masculinist bias of the Stearns’ chronicle by highlighting female performers from the Whitman Sisters to the Women in Tap conference held at UCLA in 2008.
2011 The Journal of Pan African Studies devotes a special issue to “African/Black
Dance” (a new term) that advocates for Black Studies and African Studies to incorporate scholarship on dance. In this context Takiyah Nur Amin revisits the question of defining Black dance. Returning to Carole Johnson’s definition from The Feet, Amin concludes that “Black Dance is defined as the multiple movement idioms that both originate with Black African culture and those that emerge as they are filtered through the experiences of Black people as a result of assimilating various cultural influences.”
2012 Ishmael Houston-Jones curates an eight-week series of performances and
related events at Danspace, again titled Parallels, which looks back at the two-week series he had curated 30 years before and considers what has changed over the past three decades. Blondell Cummings, Ralph Lemon, Bebe Miller, Gus Solomons Jr., and Jawole Zollar all participate in the series. Now the curator asks, “So is there such a thing as Black Dance in America? Is there ‘mainstream’ Black Dance? And if it does exist, who is pushing the boundaries of that mainstream now?”
2014 A collective of black scholars, led by Thomas DeFrantz, founds the Collegium
for African Diaspora Dance and organizes its first conference at Duke University, titled “Dancing the African Diaspora: Theories of Black Performance.”
2014 Thomas DeFrantz and Anita Gonzalez co-edit Black Performance Theory, a
collection of essays that are “less concerned with errors of omission in a historical genealogy” and “perceived differences in cultural capital from an elusive Europeanist norm” than in “the endurance of black performance even in a world that daily realigns the implications of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, location, ability, age, and class.”
© Susan Manning 2014