It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Harlem Swing: Social Dance and the Harlem Renaissance

By Brown, Tamara | Afro-Americans in New York Life and History, January 31, 1998 | Go to article overview

It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Harlem Swing: Social Dance and the Harlem Renaissance


Brown, Tamara, Afro-Americans in New York Life and History


It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Harlem Swing: Social Dance and the Harlem Renaissance

Blacktown crawled with white people, with pimps, prostitutes, bootleggers, with hustlers of all kinds, with colorful characters, and with police and prohibition agents. Negroes danced like they never have anywhere before or since.

Carl Van Vechten, Nigger Heaven

A NOTE ON THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE

In the decade following the Harlem Renaissance, Howard University professor and literary critic Alain Locke attempted to define what contribution black (or at the time Negro) people had made to American culture.(2) He claims in his article, "The Negro's Contribution To American Culture," that the focal point of this debate centers on the application of racial characteristics to artistic undertakings. "What makes a work of art Negro, its theme or its idiom? What constitutes a `Negro contribution to culture,' its authorship or its cultural base? Is there or should there be any such set of categories in our critical thinking or our creative living?"(3)

Although many used the industries of black artistic expression and literature as a tool to overcome racial degradation, Locke proclaims that the very setting aside and titling of a product as "Negro" is enough to denigrate it, and relegate it to second class standing. This would thus contribute to "a sequel of minority status, and an unfortunate by-product of racial discrimination and prejudice."(4) The author claims that these categories should not exist because there is no difference between the majority and the minority, and that the continuation of classification does not promote the cause of black liberation. In fact, he declares that artistic freedom is stifled because artists are forced to conform to a certain set of criteria that high-lighted the blackness of their endeavor. "Consistently applied it [categorizing] would shut the minority art up in a spiritual ghetto and deny vital and unrestricted creative participation in the general culture."(5)

Locke admits that most African American initiatives, namely in music and dance, are usually in time absorbed by the mainstream population where they lose some their vitality for acceptance by a larger audience. The contributions made in these two realms are also the most distinctively (and thus African) different from typical American (European-influenced) fare. "The Negro cultural influence...in music and dance,...[has] in rhythm, the tempo and the emotional overtones [the most distinguishing] of almost any typically Negro version of other cultural art forms."(6) Furthermore, the concept of Negro as it applied to the black of US affiliation was in itself classified according to what part of the country one resided. Additionally, the American black was part of the worldwide African dispersion of peoples who have some traits in common and others that are clearly particular to location. In this distinction, Locke should have realized that he was not supporting his point of the African Americans continuum of American culture contributions, but that certain traits would have been influenced by their African affiliation whether recognized by the artist or not. It would be these slight variations such as the "creative vitality and versatility, this contagious dominance seems in so many cases to be a characteristic trait of the Negro cultural product,"(7) that precisely make the work African, or African American in this case, and is its most pronounced point of distinction which characterizes it as being separate, or different, from that of the European American.

Despite his own analysis which supports the contrary, he still contends that in other areas, like literature and visual art, that black expression is generally influenced by trends in the larger American culture. He points to a time, before 1890, when black expression was generally an imitation of white, and that any particular racial element was wholeheartedly discouraged. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Harlem Swing: Social Dance and the Harlem Renaissance
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.