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The first analysis of the development of the jook and other dance arenas in African-American culture

Jookin'

The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture

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Katrina Hazzard-Gordon

Honorable Mention of the De La Torre Bueno Prize from the Dance Perspectives Foundations, 1991

"We glean just how rich the black dance tradition is from this vibrant, engaging social history, which hops from the decks of slave ships to honky-tonks, membership clubs and cabarets.... [It] takes us inside Reconstruction-era jook houses where food, gambling, drink and fellowship were offered, and where dances...crystallized into cultural forms."
Publishers Weekly

Katrina Hazzard-Gordon offers the first analysis of the development of the jook—an underground cultural institution created by the black working class—together with other dance arenas in African-American culture. Beginning with the effects of African slavesí middle passage experience on their traditional dances, she traces the unique and virtually autonomous dance culture that developed in the rural South. Like the blues, these secular dance forms and institutions were brought north and urbanized by migrating blacks. In northern cities, some aspects of black dance became integrated into white culture and commercialized. Focusing on ten African-American dance arenas from the period of enslavement to the mid-twentieth century, this book explores the jooks, honky-tonks, rent parties, and after-hours joints as well as the licensed membership clubs, dance halls, cabarets, and the dances of the black elite.

Jook houses emerged during the Reconstruction era and can be viewed as a cultural response to freedom. In the jook, Hazzard-Gordon explains, an immeasurable amount of core black culture including food, language, community fellowship, mate selection, music, and dance found a sanctuary of expression when no other secular institution flourished among the folk. The jook and its various derivative forms have provided both entertainment and an economic alternative (such as illegal lotteries and numbers) to people excluded from the dominant economy. Dances like the Charleston, shimmy, snake hips, funky butt, twist, and slow drag originated in the jooks; some can be traced back to Africa.

Social dancing links black Americans to their African past more strongly than any other aspect of their culture. Citing the significance of dance in the African-American psyche, this study explores the establishments that nurtured ancestral as well as communal links for African-Americans, vividly describing black dances, formal rituals, such as debutante balls, and the influence of black dance on white culture.

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Excerpt

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 (pdf).

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Reviews

"An excellent study of black dance.... A well-done and readable account of how black Americans brought their dances with them from Africa, adapted them to the music of urban honky-tonks and jook joints, and created a unique art form."
Jazztimes

"An important part of the growing body of African American mass culture literature addressing issues of concern to black people."
The Philadelphia New Observer

"Jookin' analyzes an underexplored aspect of the black American experience. In the larger sense, the book is a study of social change that depicts how one aspect of African-American culture has been affected by racial oppression and the process of urbanization."
American Journal of Sociology

"Here's a book I've longed for—historically rich, empirically inspired and, above all, reverent to the funk and drive and moral spirit of the Grand Atlantic Black Dance Tradition."
Robert Farris Thompson

"This is an excellent idea for a book. A dance/social history book of this order has been called for Jo these many years. Dance history has been very slim on Black dance, and information about its forms is hard to come by. Hazzard-Gordon has given us not merely an accounting of the venues of Black dancing in America, but also their evolution."
John F. Szwed, Professor of Anthropology and Afro-American Studies, Yale University

"Hazzard-Gordons' brief, informative, sprightly, and thoroughly enjoyable volume draws on a wealth of published scholarship, interviews, and personal experience to trace the evolving varieties of African-American dance forms."
Choice

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Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments

1. Dancing Under the Lash
The Middle Passage • The Plantation Environment • Bals du Cordon Bleu

2. Shoddy Confines: The Jook Continuum
The Great Transition • Jook Houses, Honky-Tonks, After-Hours Joints • Rent Parties, Chittlin' Struts, Blue Monday Affairs

3. Upper Shadies and Urban Politics
Monday Night at the Paradise Ballroom • Bells, Buzzers, and Air of Legitimacy • Night Clubs, Show Bars, Cabaret Parties • Dancin' in the Streets • Black Elite Affairs

Postscript
Notes
Index

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About the Author(s)

Katrina Hazzard-Gordon is Associate Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University, Camden, and the founder and director of the Diaspora Dance Theatre and Research Group.

Subject Categories

Sociology
African American Studies
Music and Dance

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