“An Interesting Experiment in Eugenics”: Ted Shawn, American Dance, and the Discourses of Sex, Race, and Ethnicity
Paul A. Scolieri
The “ethnic dance” movement in the United States is closely associated with Ted Shawn, the “Father of American Dance” (1891–1972). Shawn and his wife and dancing partner, Ruth St. Denis, founded a dance company called Denishawn, whose repertory incorporated Native American, “Negro,” and Spanish folk dances. By the mid-1920s, Shawn viewed American dance in terms of moral and physical purity—a philosophy he based on the discourse of eugenics. This article explores how the eugenics movement informed Shawn’s vision of American dance in the 1920s, particularly with respect to two of his related writings, The American Ballet and “An American Ballet.” It explains how Shawn’s personal and professional relationship with Havelock Ellis, a British physician who was a leading proponent of the eugenics movement in Europe and whom he considered his idol, influenced his views about eugenics. It also examines how Shawn’s anxiety about his own sexual “unfitness” (his homosexuality) shaped his racist, nativist, and xenophobic “experiment” with eugenics in American dance.
“And I Make My Own”: Class Performance, Black Urban Identity, and Depression-Era Harlem’s Physical Culture
Christopher J. Wells
This chapter applies spatial practice theory to the intersections of power relations, social spaces, and embodied performance in the dance culture of Great Depression-era Harlem. Tracing the movement in black communities away from signifiers of ethnicity toward social-class-based hierarchies, it shows how ethnicized tropes have been used to exoticize and commodify black identity and to create the American black/white racial binary. This strategy has its roots in the marketing labels of the slave trade and the performative tropes of minstrel shows, and it continued in the floor shows of the Cotton Club and other “jungle alley” nightclubs in Harlem. The chapter charts the trajectory of the Savoy Ballroom’s drift from an upscale, dignified dance palace to an incubator for the lindy hop and Harlem’s other popular dance innovations. It argues that considering dance demands a model of ethnicity that creates more space for individual agency and processes of self-definition.
Authenticity and Ethnicity: Folk Dance, Americanization, and the Immigrant Body in the Early Twentieth Century
Jessica Ray Herzogenrath
During the Progressive Era, settlement workers attempted to regulate dance both within and outside settlement house walls as a method to instill proper “American” body behaviors, particularly in immigrant bodies. This essay examines the paradoxes of folk dance as encouraged by settlement workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago and New York. Settlement workers aimed to assimilate immigrants to American ideals of health, refinement, and respectability through the body; in folk dance they found a satisfying mode of nonsexualized dance, which also acted out a romanticized desire for simplicity in the midst of rapid modernization. The evidence reveals that folk dance in settlement houses traveled two paths: ethnic clubs devoted to the practice of immigrant traditions and structured classes offered to girls and young women. These developments fulfilled the project of Americanization prescribed by the settlement movement and provided a means for immigrants to continue folk practices from their home countries.
This chapter examines the history and practice of skin color prejudices in the ballet world, especially as they relate to conceptions of “whiteness.” The ethnic roots of ballet (Kealiinohomoku) and Africanist influences on George Balanchine, which led him to invent a new kind of classicism (Dixon Gottschild), are considered, as is the dance world’s reception of these topics. It is suggested that Balanchine might have been a strong force for the integration of ballet had he not been limited by his racially hidebound context. It is also suggested that ballet might always be “the kingdom of the pale” unless the ballet world moves beyond superficial ways of seeing.
Christine Emi Chan
The Hawaiian Islands have long been characterized as a place of romance, mystery, and exotic cultural experiences. Since the 18th century arrival of Europeans, this view of Hawaii has been perpetuated by explorers, missionaries, the government, the tourist industry, and many others who choose to play into the fantasies of Hawaiian culture conjured and maintained by Orientalization. Hula and the figure of the Hawaiian hula girl are particularly oversexualized and overspiritualized. Today, we see debate over whether non-Native speakers, nonindigenous people, or non-Hawaii residents should be allowed to participate in the dance. Interestingly, in attempting to celebrate hula, certain rhetoric reinforces Orientalist tendencies to romanticize hula and Hawaii. Therefore, I offer a retheorization of hula by drawing out aspects of hula presentations that (1) recognize hula as a recycled tradition, (2) acknowledge the unique plight of the indigenous people of Hawaii, and (3) do not limit participation to certain bodies.
Kathy M. Milazzo
One of flamenco’s many palos, or forms, is the tango, which was transported as the tango de negros or tangos de Americas from Cuba to Spain in the mid-nineteenth century. There, it was transformed into the tango de gitanos and the tango flamenco, an action which disassociated it from its Africanist roots. In order to illustrate the consequences of omitting negro references to the tango in flamenco narratives, this chapter addresses the mechanisms of myth-making in the construction of identity as the Cuban tango was appropriated and subsumed into the flamenco repertoire. This chapter argues that despite the open acknowledgement of negro influences in southern Spanish dance in the early nineteenth century, negotiations during the development of Spain’s national identity affected the eventual denial of the tango as “negro” because concepts of negro were less valued as imperial commodities in Romantic discourses.
Choreographing Interculturalism: International Dance Performance at the American Museum of Natural History, 1943–1952
Rebekah J. Kowal
This chapter unpacks the contradictory cultural politics surrounding the American Museum of Natural History’s popular midcentury dance program, Around the World with Dance and Song. Directed toward cultural integrationism, or the well-intentioned humanization of foreign peoples and their ways of life, the program was notable in its use of dance to make the museum more accessible to ordinary museum goers, bridge gaps of cultural difference and understanding, and conceptualize “ethnic art dance” as an avenue of ethnic self-representation on what amounted to a concert stage. Yet the museum’s positioning of dance in these ways appealed to paradoxically flawed universalist notions about human commonality, eliding government and public hesitation to intervene in the European Jewish genocide during World War II, for example, or to significantly reform US immigration policy or address ongoing domestic cultural patterns and practices of racial, ethnic, and sexual discrimination during the postwar years.
This chapter rearticulates the study of female citizenship and the transmission of dance among the Islamic communities of the Sama and Bajau of Southeast Asia. The research examines how indigenous people’s aesthetic practices have been shared, distributed, and passed down through internal genealogical alliances, as well as through transmission in public, internationalized space. The traditional, genealogical transmission of these practices has been disrupted and challenged by post-9/11 antiterrorism laws, which affect border crossings. Examining regulation and its consequences for society by examining the body, its geopolitical mapping, and its interconnected cultural policies among the Sama and Bajau, this research also contributes to the mapping and theorization of diaspora, the politics of memory, and “the performance of culture” to understand how the aesthetic of dance is transmitted and protected as cultural knowledge, as well as its mobility across and through the fluid borders formed by the state’s law in Southeast Asia.
This paper aims to study dance and its relation to the construction and the negotiation of cultural identity of the ethnic group of locals (dopioi) in the community of Kali Vrysi in the Prefecture of Drama, in Eastern Macedonia (Greece). The linguistic otherness (the villagers spoke a local Slav idiom) of Kalivrysians (Kalivrysiotes) in the past cast doubt on their Greekness. This resulted in social, ethnic, and cultural stigmatization of the community. The dancing ritual of babougera, characterized as distant echo of Dionysian cult, has a central role in the community’s identity formation. A recent example of the appearance of the babougera ritual, the closing ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens (2004). In this dancescape of modernity, Kalivrysiotes negotiate their identity and appear as “super-Greeks.”
Dancing Angels and Princesses: The Invention of an Ideal Female National Dancer in Twentieth-Century Iran
Linking twentieth-century discourse on dance to the staged body, this chapter presents a genealogy of Iranian “national dance” (raqs-i milli) in light of the biopolitics of the national(ist) stage of the Pahlavi era (1925–1979) in Iran. Through the process of heteronormalization of the stage, the transvestite bachchah raqqas and zanpush of the preexisting popular minstrel setting (mutribi) was eliminated from the early twentieth-century modernist-nationalist stage because it embodied an ambiguous sexuality that did not match the ideals of “modern” Iran. Instead, an educated and professionalized female national dancer with balletic moves and a controlled performance of sexuality performed the ego-ideal of modern Iranian women onstage. Often depicted as an angel or a Persian princess, this new female construct enacted the narratives of the nation on the prestigious “national(ist)” stage of the Pahlavi period.