Dance and Its Music in America, 1528-1789

Dance and Its Music in America, 1528-1789

Dance and Its Music in America, 1528-1789

Dance and Its Music in America, 1528-1789

Synopsis

"Beginning with Toya Indian dances in Florida and the Matachines dance-drama in the Southwest, and moving to ordination balls, pantomimes, Black election celebrations and country dances called "Burgoyne's Surrender" and "Washington's Resignation," this study presents dance in the North American lands that would become the United States of America as a powerful yet ephemeral medium of communication and social dynamics. It integrates the history of dance and its music into cultural, commercial, and aesthetic aspects of life in the New World, both for established native societies and newcomers. Special topics include dance as a metaphor and preparation for battle, Yankee peddlers of dance and their publications, French connections, Spanish influences, dance on board ships, in religion and in the military, and Negro jigs, the Virginia Reel, and mumming traditions. Included is the colorful history of theatrical dancers who performed on the boards from Portsmouth to Charleston and competitive dancers in early versions of today's Scottish games. The core of the book is a state-by-state narrative of dance and dance music in each colony or territory from Maine to California. Thoroughly documented with extensive period quotations, illustrations, footnotes, bibliography and a detailed index, this study integrates much new information with a new way of looking at dance as a phenomenon that was both re-creative and manipulative, commercial and personal, and pleasurable and painful to those who participated."

Excerpt

In April 1528, Panfilo de Narváez landed a 300 man party in what would later be called Tampa Bay, Florida and set off into the interior. When they reached Apalache, they were greeted by local Indians playing on reed flutes. An all-night dance and noisy celebration ensued, one of many they would see. For these people, dancing was ubiquitous, not as recreation or art, but as prayer to a greater power. It was an entirely new experience for the European explorers and they found it hard to describe what they saw and felt.

Thus begins the narrative of the dance and its music in the lands of North America that would become the United States of America in 1789. From Native America dancers to minuet dancers, this study presents dance as a powerful yet ephemeral medium of communication and social dynamics. It integrates the history of dance and its music into cultural, commercial, and aesthetic aspects of life in the new world, both for established native societies and newcomers.

We will find dance used as a metaphor and preparation for battle, as a serious ritual that intimidates guests or celebrates victory, or as a drunken free-for-all in a seaport tavern. We will meet Yankee peddlers of dance, both male and female, and hundreds of Black dance musicians. We will recognize French connections and Spanish influences. There is dancing on board ships, in religion, in the military, and on the frontier. “Negro” jigs, the “Virginia Reel,” and mumming traditions are part of the story. Included is the colorful history of theatrical dancers who performed on the boards from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Charleston, South Carolina and competitive dancers in early versions of today's Scottish games.

Dance in this study will encompass any choreographic activity performed to musical accompaniment, be it a single rattle, cultivated European instruments, or the dancer's own vocables. It may be simple or complex, improvised on the spot or performed after a long period of training. Some of the dances are centuries old —some are recent creations. Underlying all will be dancing as a healthful physical activity, one that entertains or impresses the onlookers, and one that creates and mediates belonging and community among the participants and their audiences.

The core of the book is a state-by-state narrative of dance and dance music in each colony or territory from Maine to California. It presents many new documents in a new way, looking at dance as a phenomenon that was both recreational and manipulative, commercial and personal, and pleasurable and painful to those who participated.

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