By Megan Pugh
utilizing the tales of tapper invoice "Bojangles" Robinson, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, ballet and Broadway choreographer Agnes de Mille, choreographer Paul Taylor, and Michael Jackson, Megan Pugh exhibits how freedom—that nebulous, contested American ideal—emerges as a genre-defining aesthetic. In Pugh’s account, ballerinas mingle with slumming thrill-seekers, and hoedowns appear on elite opera residence levels. Steps invented by way of slaves on antebellum plantations captivate the British royalty and the Parisian avant-garde. Dances have been larger boundary crossers than their dancers, notwithstanding, and the problems of race and sophistication that hang-out daily life shadow American dance besides. Deftly narrated, America Dancing demonstrates the centrality of dance in American artwork, lifestyles, and identification, taking us to watershed moments while the kingdom labored out a feeling of itself via public movement.
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Extra resources for America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk
France’s most acclaimed artists and ﬁ fty of their models, fueled by champagne and rhythm, cakewalked through the night and into the dawn. 19 In the eighteenth century, a popu lar ﬁgure for America abroad had been a white woman in an Indian headdress, symbolizing a blend of colonial and Native American culture, feminized and fecund. By the turn of the twentieth century, that ﬁgure was changing into the black cakewalker, sign of a wild motion that pointed, whether social dancers knew it or not, back to the days of slavery.
Was that sorrow part of Williams’s perfor mance, the skill of a man who had every reason to feel triumphant about his success and his art? Or was it a profound emotional reality? It’s easy to speculate, impossible to know. Williams had reasons to feel lonely: he was a Bahamian immigrant in exile and a black man in a racist nation. During the August 1900 New York race riots, angry white mobs beat up his partner George Walker and their friend, the actor and dancer Ernest Hogan. 14 40 B I LL ROB I N S O N ’ S D R E AM George Walker did not, and neither did the other members of their company, an idiosyncrasy that helped throw Williams’s mask into relief.
7 And that’s where Bill Robinson enters the picture, sometime in or around 1900, beating In Old Kentucky’s star dancer Harry Swinton, and making a reputation for himself in the world of New York entertainment. No ﬁrsthand accounts of the RobinsonSwinton showdown are extant, but we know that spirits at these contests ran high. At a 1904 per for mance, the judges picked a winner with whom audiences were so unhappy that they began to hurl vegetables at the stage. The curtain was held for a halfhour to restore order.