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Modern Dance, Negro Dance

Race in Motion

2006
Author:

Susan Manning

Modern Dance, Negro Dance

Integrates the histories of black and white dance in modern America

Modern Dance, Negro Dance is the first book to bring together the paths of modern dance and Negro dance from their beginnings in the Depression to their ultimate transformations in the postwar years. Through photographs and reviews, documentary film and oral history, Susan Manning intricately and inextricably links the two historically divided traditions.

With skill and candor Susan Manning disturbs the waters of our complacency and challenges entrenched assumptions about American dance. Her research is careful yet exhilarating, her conclusions exciting yet sobering. This work is sure to raise hackles in its canon-breaking interrogation of race and class in dance.

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, author of The Black Dancing Body, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance, and Waltzing in the Dark

At the New School for Social Research in 1931, the dance critic for the New York Times announced the arrival of modern dance, touting the “serious art” of such dancers as Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, and Doris Humphrey. Across town, Hemsley Winfield and Edna Guy were staging what they called “The First Negro Dance Recital in America,” which Dance Magazine proclaimed “the beginnings of great and important choreographic creations.” Yet never have the two parallel traditions converged in the annals of American dance in the twentieth century.

Modern Dance, Negro Dance is the first book to bring together these two vibrant strains of American dance in the modern era. Susan Manning traces the paths of modern dance and Negro dance from their beginnings in the Depression to their ultimate transformations in the postwar years, from Helen Tamiris’s and Ted Shawn’s suites of Negro Spirituals to concerts sponsored by the Workers Dance League, from Graham’s “American Document” to the debuts of Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus, from José Limón’s 1954 work “The Traitor to Merce,” Cunningham’s 1958 dances “Summerspace” and “Antic Meet,” to Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece “Revelations.”

Through photographs and reviews, documentary film and oral history, Manning intricately and inextricably links the two historically divided traditions. The result is a unique view of American dance history across the divisions of black and white, radical and liberal, gay and straight, performer and spectator, and into the multiple, interdependent meanings of bodies in motion.


Modern Dance, Negro Dance

Susan Manning is professor of English, theater, and performance studies at Northwestern University. She is the author of Ecstasy and the Demon: The Dances of Mary Wigman, winner of the 1994 de la Torre Bueno prize for the year’s most important contribution to dance studies.

Modern Dance, Negro Dance

With skill and candor Susan Manning disturbs the waters of our complacency and challenges entrenched assumptions about American dance. Her research is careful yet exhilarating, her conclusions exciting yet sobering. This work is sure to raise hackles in its canon-breaking interrogation of race and class in dance.

Brenda Dixon Gottschild, author of The Black Dancing Body, Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance, and Waltzing in the Dark

With unflagging literary drive and clarity, Manning delineates a history of American dance that rightfully places concerns of race, class, gender, and sexuality center stage. Sustained by scrupulous research and cogent analyses, this volume pays long-overdue attention to material and social circumstances surrounding the production and reception of twentieth-century modern dance in the United States. A breakthrough for dance studies that aligns dance history with critical race theory, Modern Dance, Negro Dance is of great importance to anyone interested in how to view, read, and think critically about dance and its effects across historical eras.

Thomas DeFrantz, author of Dancing Revelations: Alvin Ailey’s Embodiment of African American Culture

As someone who has done extensive research in the early years of African American concert dance, I wholeheartedly commend Manning on her extensive contributions to an aspect of dance history that continues to be under-researched. Her integration of that history into the history of modern dance and leftist dance is a major step toward her objective of creating a more balanced perspective on American’s art and culture.

Dance Research Journal

Meticulously researched. A nuanced study that will undoubtedly revise canonical narratives and provide critical new tools for further studies.

Theatre Journal

Susan Manning is a hell of a historian. In Modern Dance, Negro Dance she analyzes the period from the dawn of modern dance in the late 1920s to the death of Alvin Ailey in 1989, offering a historiography that documents the fate of black American dance.

Village Voice

Manning’s new book examines the early development of African American concert dance, emphasizing its uneasy relationship with white modern dance, which largely ignored it, and the left-wing movement, which supported its political aspirations. Modern Dance, Negro Dance is a serious and important book. It challenges the reader to think differently about the past and the racism that has shaped it.

Dance Magazine

Unlike other considerations of the period, Manning's study commendably surveys both dances by black choreographers and those by white choreographers that employed spirituals or racially conscious political themes.

Bookforum

Manning has produced a well-researched book. By addressing attitudes of the public and the press toward African Americans in dance, Manning portrays generations of ambiguity and misunderstanding. This text will inform and challenge.

Dance Teacher Magazine

Integrates critical race theory into the traditional narrative of concert dance to expose the racial underpinnings of dance forms, aesthetic judgments, and the conventional history of modern dance. Manning brings together questions about race, sexuality, and performance and challenges the periodization of activities now known as the cultural front.

Journal of American History

The book presents a richly intricate picture of American modern dance that disrupts the boundaries of traditional historiographies, and as such it will significantly augment discussions of twentieth-century dance history and provide a model for future scholarship that seeks cultural hybridity and multiple meanings in dance.

Theatre Research International