Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture

Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture

Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture

Jookin': The Rise of Social Dance Formations in African-American Culture


Katrina Hazzard-Gordon offers the first analysis of the development of the jookan underground cultural institution created by the black working classtogether with other dance arenas in African-American culture. Beginning with the effects of African slaves middle passage experience on their traditional dances, she traces the unique and virtually autonomous dance culture that developed in the rural South. Like the blues, these secular dance forms and institutions were brought north and urbanized by migrating blacks. In northern cities, some aspects of black dance became integrated into white culture and commercialized. Focusing on ten African-American dance arenas from the period of enslavement to the mid-twentieth century, this book explores the jooks, honky-tonks, rent parties, and after-hours joints as well as the licensed membership clubs, dance halls, cabarets, and the dances of the black elite.

Jook houses emerged during the Reconstruction era and can be viewed as a cultural response to freedom. In the jook, Hazzard-Gordon explains, an immeasurable amount of core black culture including food, language, community fellowship, mate selection, music, and dance found a sanctuary of expression when no other secular institution flourished among the folk. The jook and its various derivative forms have provided both entertainment and an economic alternative (such as illegal lotteries and numbers) to people excluded from the dominant economy. Dances like the Charleston, shimmy, snake hips, funky butt, twist, and slow drag originated in the jooks; some can be traced back to Africa.

Social dancing links black Americans to their African past more strongly than any other aspect of their culture. Citing the significance of dance in the African-American psyche, this study explores the establishments that nurtured ancestral as well as communal links for African-Americans, vividly describing black dances, formal rituals, such as debutante balls, and the influence of black dance on white culture."


This work examines one facet of African-American core culture: the dance arena. (For our purposes, a dance arena is any institution of social interaction in African-American life in which secular social dancing plays an integral part.) It investigates three questions: What are the primary institutions that allowed the development of dance among African-Americans? What sociohistorical circumstances influenced these institutions? What has been the significance of the dance?

The notion that dance has a significant place in the African-American cultural psyche and collective memory is not new; it serves as one of our operating assumptions. This study also assumes that blacks have used dance to articulate group experiences. All the dance institutions we examine, except for quadroon balls and formal elite balls, served the lower and working classes and developed in accordance with the work rhythms and social needs of their constituencies.

The bulk of the study offers an exploratory look at the dance arenas themselves, focusing primarily on Cleveland, Ohio, as a model of the postmigration urban environment Lack of scholarly information led me to rely on participants who sponsored, patronized, or entertained in these dance arenas. Because of this dearth of information, I used a wide variety of sources, including newspapers, magazines, journals, novels . . .

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