Friday, July 01, 2011

friday dance - debbie downer edition

a couple of weeks ago barcelona hosted the european swing dance championships. this couple won first place in the lindy hop classic division:

when i saw this i couldn't believe what i was seeing... immediately, i felt uncomfortable and awkward and honestly, i haven't been able to watch the entire thing thru... it's meant as an "homage" to the original dance performed by whitey's lindy hoppers in the marx brothers movie "a day at the races":

what little i know (still learning) of the intersections of race and sociology and culture... the beginning of the performance just drips of cultural appropriation and minstrelsy to me... all it was missing was blackface...

please note - i don't know the dancers personally, and i'm not calling them racists. all i'm saying is this performance has racial undertones that make me feel VERY uncomfortable and angry and embarrassed...

BUT IT WON! THEY. WON. FIRST. PLACE. (i can't even wrap my head around that...)

a couple of years ago, lisa wade (PhD and lindy hopper) wrote a short and simple post (dedicated to frankie) about race and lindyhop and one of my fave blogs, racialicious re-posted it. she writes:

"...contemporary dancers look to old movie clips of famous black dancers as inspiration. And this is where things get interesting: The old clips feature profoundly talented black dancers, but the context in which they are dancing is important. Professional black musicians, choreographers, and dancers had to make the same concessions that other black entertainers at the time made. That is, they were required to capitulate to white producers and directors who presented black people to white audiences. These movies portrayed black people in ways that white people were comfortable with: blacks were musical, entertaining, athletic (even animalistic), outrageous (even wild), not-so-smart, happy-go-lucky, etc.

So what we see in the old clips that contemporary lindy hoppers idolize is not a pure manifestation of lindy hop, but a manifestation of the dance infused by racism.....

Typically they (black dancers) would have no relationship to the plot; they would occur out of nowhere and then disappear. This was so that the movie studios could edit out the scene when the movie was going to be shown to those white audiences that were hostile to seeing any positive representation of black people at all."

re: this performance as an homage. again, i refer to racialicous and this post about cultural appropriation and how one person's homage is another person's insult. tami writes:

"...There is a long history of of white musicians being inspired by black music and finding fame with an “exotic” but safer sound, while their black muses languished in obscurity. Without diminishing the impact of artists like Elvis and The Rolling Stones on the popular music scene, surely it is clear that they benefited from a culture that would never allow a bluesman like Robert Johnson to gain mainstream prominence. The fresh sounds that electrified rock audiences weren’t really so fresh, just appropriated from an artist and culture made invisible by racism..."

and from this recent post on cultural appropriation from clutch magazine:

"It’s ironic how the White girl mimicking Black culture has been viewed as quirky, cute, and interesting in the past. But sisters who fashionably rock bamboo earrings, gold nameplate necklaces, and blonde streaked weaves, will inevitably be considered “ghetto” by society."

again - two white dancers performing a routine originated by black dancers WON FIRST PLACE IN AN INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION... at first glance - i guess it's cute and charming - but in the context of WHY the original dancers wore the outfits in the first place, why and how the singers sang their songs... not so cute. not so charming... *heavy sigh* *smh*

y'know, this performance showed up at a bad time for me anyway... just bad timing all around for dance performances really... two of my fave dance crews had their routines stolen - first, les twins and then, poreotics... then... THEN this ABSOLUTE CLUSTERF*CK of immense geisha fail turned up on my TV while the paloma was watching:

F*CK YEAH! way to EMBRACE ASIAN CULTURE by throwing up that TIRED, sexy, silent geisha trope in my face, SYTYCD! i especially LOVE the stupid f*cking head bobbing at the end!! next time, don't forget the backup male dancers with the buck teeth and the cone hats... why couldn't you just stop at accepting stolen routines... GAH! i can't watch that show anymore... :(

anyway, getting back to the WINNING performance above... i don't feel that the performance deserves the award it received or the accompanying accolades... lindy hoppers (including me) - especially teachers and pro competitors - have a unique responsiblity to learn everything about the dance - including its dark and racist history. teachers should at the very least KNOW, if not TEACH, this history, in addition to teaching steps, connection, musicality, etc... no, i'm not expecting them to haul out whiteboards, powerpoints and syllabi... but i do expect them to encourage and challenge creativity, continue their own education, develop the growth of the dance, and unify an often isolated/isolating community....

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