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Reviewed by:
  • Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader
  • J. Ellen Gainor
Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Edited by Julie Malnig. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009; pp. 392. $75.00 cloth, $25.00 paper.

In 1995, when Julie Malnig published her first book Dancing Till Dawn: A Century of Exhibition Ballroom Dance, the field of dance studies was just beginning to turn its attention to analyses of social and popular forms, broadening its critical scope beyond its primary focus on classical ballet and modern dance. Social and folk dance, as well as non-Western dance forms, have for some time been explored within the realm of cultural anthropology. During the past decade, however, the confluence of performance studies and cultural studies has drawn more scholarly attention to the integral relationship of popular and regional dance to community identity and cultural formation around the globe. For the American context in particular, African American studies, Latino/a studies, and gender and sexuality studies have also contributed to research on dance; this work has revealed profound connections with our politics and history, creating a rich and provocative critical matrix of intersecting concerns for these and still other fields.

Burgeoning interest in the expanded parameters of dance scholarship from these multiple vantage points has now prompted Malnig to assemble the first collection of essays devoted exclusively to social [End Page 135] and popular dance: Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Focusing on investigations of American social dance, Malnig has collected nineteen dynamic essays that allow us to understand key elements of our history and culture through our dance practices. Arranged chronologically as well as thematically, these pieces demonstrate not only the methodological variety now informing dance studies, but also how dance research can effect profound interventions in some long-held beliefs about our cultural heritage.

The latter is particularly at play in the collection's first section, "Historical Precedents." The essays by Jurretta Jordan Heckscher on dance in the Afro-Chesapeake slave community and Nadine George-Graves on primitivity and ragtime dance introduce us to one of the strongest through-lines for the volume: the complex interplay of African and European dance forms in the United States, beginning in the colonial era and continuing up through the present day. This line of inquiry extends into the essays by Karen Hubbard and Terry Monaghan on Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, Tim Wall on televised dance programs in the 1950s and '60s, and Halifu Osumare on the choreography of Rennie Harris. A parallel line of inquiry considers the synergies in Latin American and European dance forms and their evolution within United States culture, with pieces by Yvonne Daniel on rumba in its Cuban and US contexts and David Garcia on "the mambo body" in Havana, New York, and Mexico City. Juliet McMains examines both the commodification and codification of salsa and its relationship to the established Latin ballroom forms within "DanceSport" (the term now used for competitive ballroom dance).

Another group of articles foregrounds issues of class, gender and sexuality, and regional identity in the Americas to highlight the complex cultural fabrics into which our social dances are woven. Elizabeth Aldrich looks at eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ballrooms and their role in civilizing the emerging US middle class, while Malnig parses the contradictory images of womanhood and femininity that played out in social dances of the 1910s. Carol Martin's essay on dance marathons and Lisa Doolittle's piece on the Trianon Ballroom in Alberta, Canada both explore social dance during the economic desperation of the Great Depression. Tim Lawrence considers 1970s urban disco culture, while Sally Sommer looks at the more contemporary world of urban underground house dance. Christina Zanfagna focuses on krumping and hip-hop in Los Angeles, as May Gwin Waggoner examines Cajun and zydeco forms in Louisiana.

The section Malnig titles "Theatricalizations of Social Dance Forms" incorporates many of these concerns with transcultural influences and the evolution of dance styles. It interweaves them with an exploration of the double life of social dance within community-based cultural practice and as a vehicle for public performance. Here, Barbara...


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