Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Degendering of Black Male Performers

Take a look at this video which showcases dance moves of the 1930s like the Charleston, the Lindy Hop and the Shim Sham as exemplified by black performers Al Minns and Leon James in both solo and partner dance.

Interestingly enough, these men who start as individual male performers begin to perform as partners, a traditionally male-female relationship in the world of dance. Would this have been acceptable with a white male-male partnership on 1960s national television? As this video is showcasing the "jazz" (read: black) dance moves that came out of "jazz" (again, read: black) clubs of the era, having two white performers enact these moves would have been inappropriate to some degree. But the interesting choice to have two black men perform a partner dance that includes close body contact and lifts (that should be massively accredited for their impressive athleticism) proves the point of many scholars that mediated representations of black men and women are usually "divested of their sexuality"(i) on television or are portraying "neutered or counterfeit sexuality"(ii) in films. Also, their attire is reminiscent of a bellhop's or a waiter's uniform, warranting another reading of the chosen costume for these black entertainers as congruous with other contemporary representations of black men as individuals in the service industry.

Despite these observations, the video is pretty fantastically entertaining in its own right, is it not?

(i) Donald Bogle, Primetime Blues: African Americans on Network Television. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 37.

(ii) Ed Guerrero, Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993), 72.

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