Abstract

This essay asks how notions of intellectual property played out among African American vernacular-dance communities during the first half of the twentieth century, when copyright law did not extend to choreography and when racial segregation governed the dance world. On the one hand, tap and jazz dancers’ liberal borrowing of steps from one another defied the logic of US copyright law, with its prohibition against the unauthorized reproduction of another’s original work; but on the other, the extra-legal measures that performers developed to protect their moves bore notable affinities to Western constructions of intellectual property. The examples provided by these dancers also prompt a reconsideration of the fit between copyright law and dance more generally.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-332X
Print ISSN
0192-2882
Pages
pp. 173-189
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-23
Open Access
No
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