Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Disappearing Dance: Maxixe's Imperial Erasure

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Disappearing Dance: Maxixe's Imperial Erasure

Article excerpt

"category crisis" ... not the exception but rather the ground of culture itself."

(Garber 1992, 16)

In 1914, a revue at New York City's Winter Garden celebrated a fabulous dance, just then all the rage:

   The other night a dear, old friend said, "A ball we will
      attend!"
   Said he'd show me all the latest dances to date
   Promised me he wouldn't keep me out very late,
   So we lost no time at all but we taxied to the hall.
   First we did a "Tango," then did a "Trot," No "Hesitation" at
      all.
   Then he said, "Now Lilian, Let's do the Brazilian
   And I will show you something new."
   La-la la (etc.) Oh! what that man did do!
   His arm went round my waist
   But it wouldn't stay in place.
   And every time we bent our knees
   'Twas then I felt a run in my silk stocking,
   how shocking!
   While dancing Brazilian Max-cheese.
   (Nazareth and Window 1914)

Sung to music by the Brazilian composer Ernesto Nazareth, this amusing piece fed and reflected the appeal of the Afro-Brazilian set dance maxixe.

For a brief moment concentrated around this single year, maxixe was an inescapable part of the dance craze sweeping the United States.

In the United States today, of course, maxixe is notable primarily for its absence. Why did maxixe disappear? Like many a fad, this dance vanished from U.S. popular culture and memory when the culture industry turned its attention elsewhere. Later, critics and historians layered their neglect over that of their sources. In maxixe's case, however, the here-today-gone-tomorrow quality of popular fashions is more complex. Maxixe's star rose for some of the same reasons that it fell, all involving a pair of conjoined phenomena key to the structuring of U.S. social relations. The two defining backdrops of both the emergence and erasure of this popular form are U.S. imperialism, at its height in this period, and domestic racial conditions, particularly the ongoing fortification of Jim Crow violence against African Americans, which gained momentum from the end of Reconstruction and into the 1920s. Maxixe's fate in the United States involved both of these factors, as well as the links and tensions between them. I offer here a brief history of maxixe's travels, hoping this disappearing dance can focus those connections and contradictions, revealing facets of the project of musical classification relevant to students of popular music in all disciplines.

Maxixe, Tango, Jazz

Maxixe's moment in the United States was another chapter in the long life of a peripatetic set dance form. Its origins lie clouded in the meetings of polka, lundu, tango, habanera, and more in urban, nineteenth-century Brazil (Duran 1942, 21; Almeida 1948; Efege 1974; Alvarenga 1982; Chasteen 1996; Moore 1997; Behague 1999; Fryer 2000, 154). At the intersection of these various traditions, people dancing and playing maxixe incorporated, through their bodily movements, a series of encounters, especially Afro-diasporic encounters, in the Americas. Maxixe was not only a palimpsest of earlier crossings but an arena of cultural mixture and an opportunity for ongoing innovation. It was one of many set dance forms, as dance historian Curt Sachs (1937, 33) noted, that "crossed the Atlantic"--and, we should add, the equator--"back and forth, not one but many times, invariably altered upon their return and often carrying a new name." Created by bodies in all sorts of motion, maxixe would never come to rest.

Maxixe as such began its travels outside of Brazil in the late nineteenth century, according to Jota Efege, maxixe's most enthusiastic and thorough historian. Efege (1974, 141) reports that Brazilian dancers in Paris, along with French and other non-Brazilian dancers who traveled to Brazil, brought maxixe repeatedly to the French capital, beginning at least as early as 1889. Sachs (1937, 444-445) confirms this timing, placing maxixe at an important, catalytic position in the round of exchange initiated at the turn of the twentieth century:

   Since the Brazilian maxixe of 1890 and the cakewalk of 1903 broke
   up the pattern of turns and glides that dominated the European round
   dances, our generation has adopted with disquieting rapidity a
   succession of Central American [sic] dances. … 
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