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Exoticism, Dance, and Racial Myths: Modern Dance and the Class Divide in the Choreography of Aida Overton Walker and Ethel Waters

  • David Krasner
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Abstract

Though black women played a pivotal role in the development of modern choreography, dance scholars have largely ignored their contributions.3 Yet the evidence is unequivocal: black women contributed significantly to the origins of modern dance. The Charleston, turkey trot, Texas Tommy, fox trot, and shimmy emerged in black communities and made their way into the world of white middle-class dance halls. In addition to inventing new forms of social dancing, black women choreographed “classical” modern dance during the early twentieth century. Their choreography represented an act of empowerment; despite the exploitatively sexual overtones of dancing at the time, many black women fought against stereotyping, attempting to maintain their creativity and self-expression. Black women dancers were forced to maneuver through narrowly prescribed paths, yet despite restrictions, some still managed to carve out innovative careers.4 No doubt African American women choreographers experienced many of the same conditions that affected all dancers at the time; black dancers sought ways of creating a style that reflected modern society and trends. However, without downplaying the significance of social trends, black women faced unique issues that influenced their choreography.

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© David Krasner 2002

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  • David Krasner

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