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Modern MovesDancing Race during the Ragtime and Jazz Eras$
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Danielle Robinson

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199779215

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199779215.001.0001

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“A Colorful Nightmare”

“A Colorful Nightmare”

Immigrant Ragtime Dancing as Participatory Minstrelsy

(p.59) Chapter 2 “A Colorful Nightmare”
Modern Moves

Danielle Robinson

Oxford University Press

Chapter two considers ragtime dancing among European immigrant youth within the contexts of American minstrelsy, African American migration, and European immigration. Based on period sheet music and investigative reports by the Committee of Fourteen (a Manhattan-based, middle-class community watchdog organization that was active from 1900 to 1930 and concerned with social vice), the chapter argues that ragtime dancing of the early twentieth century can be understood as a form of participatory minstrelsy, a social practice transformed from theatrical practice. This form of dancing allowed movers to borrow markers of blackness in a way that built upon “coon singing” and prefigured the covering of black music by white artists in the wake of race records. Read through the minstrelsy scholarship in dance, theatre, literature, and film—especially that by social historian Eric Lott—while dancing “black” to ragtime music, European immigrant youth found a means of assimilation as Americans.

Keywords:   ragtime, European immigration, blackface minstrelsy, youths, assimilation, appropriation

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