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date: 04 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

During the Great Depression, Bill Robinson and Shirley Temple made a number of films together in which narratives depict an America where African Americans are happy slaves or docile servants, Civil War (even southern) soldiers are noble Americans, and voracious capitalists are kindly old men. But within these minstrel tropes and origin stories designed for uplift, the films challenge regressive ideologies through the incendiary dance partnership of Robinson and Temple. Studying the Stair Dance in The Little Colonel, this chapter argues that their screendance interludes complexly shift and manipulate our perspective: while the tap dance is part of the story, it is bracketed as a time outside the movie’s narrative flow. This thrusts the dance through the fixity of Jim Crow social constructs to reveal them as constructs, demonstrating the layered and molten nature of race and gender, and offering moviegoers a vision of the sociological and existential structures of US society reimagined.

Keywords: Bill Robinson, Shirley Temple, tap dance, screendance, Jim Crow, African Americans, Stair Dance, The Little Colonel, minstrel tropes

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