The survival of African cultural traditions in the New World has long been a subject of academic study and controversy, particularly traditions of dance, music, and song. Yet the dance culture of blacks in London, where a growing black community carried on the newly creolized dance traditions of their Caribbean ancestors, has been largely neglected.
This study begins by examining the importance of dance in African culture and analyzing how African dance took root in the Caribbean, even as slaves learned and adapted European dance forms. It then looks at how these dance traditions were transplanted and transformed once again, this time in mid-eighteenth century London. Finally it analyzes how the London black community used the quadrille and other dances to establish a unified self-identity, to reinforce their group dynamic, and to critique the oppressive white society in which they found themselves.
Rodreguez King-Dorset — Choreographer and filmmaker Rodreguez King-Dorset is a senior lecturer in dance at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom.
King-Dorset, Rodreguez. Black dance in London, 1730-1850: innovation, tradition and resistance. McFarland, 2008. 196p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780786438501. Reviewed in 2009sep CHOICE.
Defining "black dance" to mean "culturally black, as well as biologically black, a dance culture that is rooted in Africa," King-Dorset (Univ. of Lincoln, UK) refers to oral histories, diaries, plantation documents, parliamentary papers, drawings, prints, and newspapers to provide evidence of persistent dance aspects of the sizable minority population. The extensive literature review includes discussions of dance historiography; authenticity and cultural retentions (per Melville Herskovits and E. Franklin Frazier); social theory (Orlando Patterson); distinctions between European dance and African dance (Moreau de Saint-Méry); patterns of colonialization and slave trafficking in the Caribbean and London (Antonio Benitez-Rojo); humor and satire (Hans Eysenck, Freud); slave society (Eugene Genovese); and viewership and the grotesque (Mikhail Bakhtin). King-Dorset's setting of dance in larger context (e.g., Akan war dance during the Antiguan revolt of 1736, and black British solidarity evidenced by participation in the 1780 Gordon Riots) is compelling, as is his strong recitation of 19th-century black balls. Overall, this is a welcome companion to Lynne Fauley Emery's Black Dance in the United States from 1619 to 1970 (1972; 2nd rev. ed., 1988), even though the whole is slightly overwhelmed by the range of analytic prisms and the speculative nature of early dance recovery.
Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty. -- T. F. DeFrantz, Massachusetts Institute of Technology