Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance

Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance

Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance

Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance

Synopsis

Choreographing Copyright is a new historical and cultural analysis of U.S. dance-makers' investment in intellectual property rights. Stretching from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first, the book reconstructs efforts to win copyright protection for choreography and teases out their raced and gendered politics, showing how dancers have embraced intellectual property rights as a means to both consolidate and contest racial and gendered power. A number of the artists featured in the book are well-known in the history of American dance, including Loie Fuller, Hanya Holm, and Martha Graham, Agnes de Mille, and George Balanchine. But the book also uncovers a host of marginalized figures - from the South Asian dancer Mohammed Ismail, to the African American pantomimist Johnny Hudgins, to the African American blues singer Alberta Hunter, to the white burlesque dancer Faith Dane - who were equally interested in positioning themselves as subjects rather than objects of property. Drawing on critical race and feminist theories and on cultural studies of copyright, Choreographing Copyright offers fresh insight into the raced and gendered hierarchies that govern the theatrical marketplace, white women's historically contingent relationship to property rights, legacies of ownership of black bodies and appropriation of non-white labor, and the tension between dance's ephemerality and its reproducibility.

Excerpt

It started with a bit of typed text on a sheet of paper at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University. I was doing a little digging for an earlier project in the papers of Marshall Stearns, author of the indispensable Jazz Dance: The Story of American Vernacular Dance. Curious what Stearns had to say about the Black Bottom, a popular African American vernacular dance from the 1920s, which appeared in a theatrical concert I was researching, I checked out his notes on the dance, and there it was: “Alberta Hunter, the first woman to present the dance, had it copyrighted.” Sourced to Abel Green and Joe Laurie Jr.’s 1951 edition of Show Biz, the claim never made it into the published version of Jazz Dance, but it continued to gnaw at me as I completed my first book. Although, as I discuss in Chapter 3, the claim proved impossible to corroborate, more likely rumor than verifiable fact, there was something defiant about it that was equally impossible to ignore. a copyright by an African American blues woman on the kind of dance that is generally considered “authorless”? the Black Bottom was one in a long string of social dances, like the Charleston, the Lindy hop, and the twist, that originated in African American communities, were disseminated on vaudeville, nightclub, and musical theater stages, as well as on screen, and became national “crazes” when Euro-Americans began performing them. the claim that Hunter “had it copyrighted” thus struck me as a powerful refusal of the entrenched racialized logic that generally assigns authorship and ownership of discrete acts of creative expression to individual white artists while “invisibilizing” the creative labor of individual and

the Marshall Winslow Stearns Collection, Institute of Jazz Studies, Rutgers University Libraries.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.