Tuesday, December 9, 2014

learning about cultural appropriation

We're currently in our historical social dances unit, and today I showed the segment from the old (and ever-useful) PBS series "Dancing" on the Lindy hop and the Savoy Ballroom. I love this one — it was made at a time when they could still get two of Lindy hop's real pioneers, Frankie Manning and Norma Miller, to talk onscreen about the dance and their own experiences (and then I get to tell my students that, while I never got to study with Frankie Manning myself, I did learn from one of his students... Always nice when you can pull out that dance family tree!).

There's a section in which the narrator speaks of how the dance changed once it was taken up and taught in (white) dance studios — with accompanying archival footage making it obvious how this wild, grounded, lightning-fast African-derived dance was tamed into something bouncy, upright, rigid, and contained. At the end, when I asked students to share what they had noticed or felt was significant, T____ spoke up (I'm paraphrasing here, of course): "I thought it was interesting how when the white people took the dance, they made it all stiff and completely different from what it was... It was as if they liked the style but they didn't like the way the people who made it were, so they took parts and changed it into their own thing..." Good observation, of course — and all I could think of when she was saying this was wow, what a great introduction to the whole concept of cultural appropriation! I hope this will be the first of many more interesting discussions...

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