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date: 25 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

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.

Keywords: Dance, Settlement Houses, Folk Dance, Progressive Era, Chicago, New York

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