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 indicates 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 condominium phases. Steps invented by means of slaves on antebellum plantations captivate the British royalty and the Parisian avant-garde. Dances have been greater boundary crossers than their dancers, besides the fact that, and the problems of race and sophistication that hang-out lifestyle shadow American dance in addition. Deftly narrated, America Dancing demonstrates the centrality of dance in American artwork, existence, and id, taking us to watershed moments whilst the country labored out a feeling of itself via public movement.
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Extra resources for America Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk
At least, that’s how buck dancing started: by the end of the nineteenth century, dancers had begun to syncopate their rhythms and loosen their legs. In The Pickaninnies, a twenty-ﬁve-second Edison ﬁ lm from 1894, three 36 B I LL ROB I N S O N ’ S D R E AM black men—members of The Passing Show, one of In Old Kentucky’s rival productions—do an upbeat, athletic buck dance. One man drops onto his back and raises himself into a shoulder stand, his feet sticking up high in the air, then ﬂ ips over backward, before moving casually back into his percussive steps.
His toes and his heels are banging the ﬂoor so quickly it’s hard to tell what’s hitting where, yet he acts as if it’s the easiest thing in the world, dofﬁng his bowler hat, grinning at his feet and the audience, swinging his arms as carelessly as a man out for a Sunday stroll. The audience at the Holborn goes wild. They applaud and cheer for so long that it stops the show. Minutes pass before the next performer can come onstage. That same week, at another London theater, the Victoria Palace, the blackface comedy duo Jones and Jones tried to win the crowd with thick southern accents, mispronounced words, and general buffoonery.
Robinson’s “fantastic footwork” was later praised for “approaching perfection,” but it apparently did not merit much attention until the late teens, when Robinson left Cooper to perform on his own. Perhaps Robinson’s dancing had improved over the years, or perhaps, without a comic foil to ﬁ ll out dialogue, he had more time B I L L RO BI N SO N ’S D RE AM 43 to show it off. Perhaps he decided that dancing would help him separate himself from his old partner, rather than appearing to be half of an incomplete team.