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The Black Dancing Body: a Geography from Coon to Cool.

The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool By Brenda Dixon Gottschild. New York, Palgrave MacMillan, 2003. 332 pages, illustrations, Cloth, $29.95

As implied by Brenda Dixon Gottschild's full title, the black dancing body is a territory with rich and controversial history and culture. Dixon Gottschild, our intrepid explorer, takes a sometimes exhilarating, sometimes dizzying zigzag path through numerous sampled interviews (Bill T. Jones, Marlies Yearby, Fernando Bujones, Dong Elkins, Brenda Bufalino, Marian Soto, and others of diverse ethnicity) and her own personal reflections about the racial battlegrounds of skin, hair, feet, butts, and sexuality. Along the way, her frequent side trips analyze the careers of icons such as Josephine Baker and James Brown, noting how each of these performers triumphed by reclaiming, redefining, and exalting those stereotypes and legitimate features of blackness that white society both resists and desires.

It's telling that some black dance artists expressed caution about discussing some of the topics Dixon Gottschild broaches in her interviews. Their economic vulnerability--as dancers, as artists, as people of color in a society whose institutions privilege those who are affluent and white--cannot be underestimated, However, this book's value lies in the author's curiosity and enthusiastic determination to go all the way there: Let's talk about what we're really thinking when we watch a performer of another race or what we might say to someone of our own race but hesitate to reveal in public. (An experiment: What thoughts or images come to mind when you hear that Josephine Baker studied with Balanchine in the 1920s?) Let's talk about how the complex, troubled history of race in America complicates (and, sadly, is still mirrored by) our professional prospects and working relationships within the dance world.

Some readers may believe that the dance community has no race issue to examine and that we, like the so-called colorblind America, have moved on. But Dixon Gottschild's happiest readers will share her adventurousness, her inclination to listen deeply and learn, and her honesty. This is not a linear, academic study but a living, breathing crazy quilt. Her questions are far from resolved and the conversation does not--must not--stop with page 301. The best use of this book is as a stimulus for free-ranging, ongoing discussion.--EVA YAA ASANTEWAA
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Author:Asantewaa, Eva Yaa
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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