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Posts Tagged ‘dance

“It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”*…

 

Lindy Hop

 

In Atlanta’s historic Vine City neighborhood, hidden among the trees overgrowing the lot at the corner of Sunset and Magnolia, is a barren concrete slab. On this spot, in the heart of an early-1930s African American community, Atlanta was first introduced to what would become “America’s National Dance”: the Lindy Hop.

Teenagers from all over the Westside would flock to the Sunset Casino and Amusement Park. The cavernous pavilion, which had been converted to a dance hall, featured a rotating cast of local talent along with the best swing bands in the world — Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald. The Sunset also held Saturday afternoon dances and weekly Jitterbug contests. At the Sunset, for just 25 cents, the city’s black youth could briefly escape the ravages of the Depression and Jim Crow and dance their cares away…

Swing Dance is a modern umbrella term that describes a range of partner dances associated with swing music. But the realest swing dance is the Lindy Hop. The Lindy Hop was an art form invented by black dancers at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem during the late 1920s, and almost the entire history of African American dance was its source material. The dance is based on a core move called the “swing out,” in which two partners engage in a reciprocally counterbalanced swinging movement around each other. The dancers then layer on infinite embellishment and elaboration, including the acrobatic “air steps” for which the dance is known. Lindy hoppers may use rehearsed choreography when competing or performing. When dancing socially — as we normally do — Lindy Hoppers, like jazz musicians, improvise all their movements in real time, creating a wholly new dance at each moment on the floor.

The Lindy Hop evolved through the growing popularity of big bands in the mid-1930s, especially as dance troupes began touring and appearing in Hollywood movies. The term “jitterbug” was introduced to the lexicon by a Cab Calloway song in 1932 and became the preferred term for young Lindy Hop dancers, ultimately becoming synonymous with the dance itself. By the time that LIFE magazine belatedly proclaimed the Lindy Hop to be “America’s national folk dance” in 1943, the dance had been a part of cultural and social life in African American communities across the country for well over a decade…

In the South of 90 years ago, young African Americans started dancing the Lindy Hop.  It was an act of resistance, an assertion of freedom against the discrimination and violence of the time.  Today, swing dancers across the South — black and white together — pay proper tribute to that legacy: “Jitterbugging With Jim Crow.”

* music by Duke Ellington, lyrics by Irving Mills (1931)

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As we trip the light fantastic, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940 that Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr. became the first African American to rise to the rank of General in the U.S. Army.  His son, Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., was the first African American General in the U.S. Air Force, a rank he attained after commanding the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

Benjamin_o_davis

Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., in 1944

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Written by LW

October 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Dying is easy, comedy is hard”*…

 

neighbors-keaton

Neighbors. Dir. Edward F. Cline/Buster Keaton. Perf. Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Keaton. Metro Pictures, 1920.

 

As he migrated from vaudeville stage to movie set, [Buster] Keaton realised the comedy itself did not need changing, though the opportunities afforded by the camera could extend the world in which the spatial interplay he had developed since childhood took place.

“…the greatest thing to me about picturemaking was the way it automatically did away with the physical limitations of the theatre. On the stage, even one as immense as the New York Hippodrome stage, one could only show so much. The camera had no such limitations. The whole world was its stage. If you wanted cities, deserts, the Atlantic Ocean, Persia, or the Rocky Mountains for your scenery and background, you merely took your camera to them.”

Keaton’s comedy derives largely from the positioning —and constant, unexpected repositioning— of his body in space, and in architectural space particularly. Unlike other slapstick performers who relished in the close-up and detailed attention to the protagonist, Keaton frequently directed the camera to film with a wide far-shot that could contain the whole of a building’s facade or urban span within the frame. Proud of always carrying out his own (often extremely dangerous) stunts, this enabled him to show the audience that his actions were performed in real-time —and real-place— rather than simply being tricks of the camera or editing process. It also allowed him to visually explore the many ways in which his body could engage with the urban form…

An appreciation of that greatest of all silent comedians: “Buster Keaton: Anarchitect.”

* variously attributed to actors Edmund Keane, Edmund Gwynn, and Peter O’Toole

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As we take the fall, we might send delighted birthday greetings to Stanley Donen; he was born on this date in 1924.  A Broadway dancer (who befriended a young Gene Kelly), Donen followed Kelly to Hollywood as choreographer, then a director– of such classics as On the Town (1949) and Singin’ in the Rain (1952), both of which starred Kelly who co-directed.  Donen’s other films include Royal Wedding (1951), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954),  Funny Face (1957), Indiscreet (1958), and Charade (1963).  Credited (with his rival, Vincent Minelli) with having transitioned Hollywood musical films from realistic backstage dramas (a la Busby Berkeley) to a more integrated art form in which the songs were a natural continuation of the story, Donen is highly regarded by film historians.

One might note a kinship between Keeton’s astounding physical relationship to his surroundings and that of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Fred Astaire in Donen’s films…

Stanley_Donen_(cropped) source

 

Written by LW

April 13, 2019 at 1:01 am

“For I have trained myself and am training myself always to be able to dance lightly in the service of thought”*…

 

dance

For the last 11 years, Science and the AAAS have hosted Dance Your Ph.D., a contest that challenges scientists around the world to explain their research through the most jargon-free medium available: interpretive dance. [see here and here]

This years winners have been announced:

Scientific research can be a lonely pursuit. And for Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, even the subject of his research is lonely: singleton electrons wandering through superconducting material. “Superconductivity relies on lone electrons pairing up when cooled below a certain temperature,” Yapa says. “Once I began to think of electrons as unsociable people who suddenly become joyful once paired up, imagining them as dancers was a no-brainer!”

Six weeks of choreographing and songwriting later, Yapa scooped the 2018 “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest. The judges—a panel of world-renowned artists and scientists—chose Yapa’s swinging electron dance from 50 submissions based on both artistic and scientific merits. He takes home $1000 and immortal geek fame…

Learn more, and see other category winners at “The winner of this year’s ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ contest turned physics into art.”

* Søren Kierkegaard

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As we tempt Terpsichore, we might spare a thought for Glenn Theodore Seaborg; he died o this date in 1999.  A chemist, his discovery and investigation of plutonium and nine other transuranium elements was part of the effort during World War II to develop an atomic bomb; it earned him a share of the 1951 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Seaborg went on to serve as Chancellor of the University of California, as Chair of the Atomic Energy Commission, and as an advisor to 10 presidents– from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton– on nuclear policy and science education.  Element 106 (the last of the ten that Seaborg discovered), was named seaborgium in his honor.

Like so many of the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, Seaborg became a campaigner for arms control.  He was a signatory to the Franck Report and contributed to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

 source

 

Written by LW

February 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”*…

 

dance

Someone went through a great deal of effort to stitch together a montage of dance scenes from some 300 feature films…

 

More (including a list of all of the films featured) at: Dancing in Movies: A Montage of Dance Moments from Almost 300 Feature Films.

* Friedrich Nietzsche

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As we tap our toes, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Donn Alan “D. A.” Pennebaker (or “Penny” to his friends); he was born on this date in 1925.  A documentarian, he was a pioneer of direct cinema and cinema verite.  While his dozens of films have touched on a wide variety of subjects, he has a long– and very influential– suit in music: starting with his portrait of the young Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back, and continuing through Monterrey Pop, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and Woodstock Diary, he was instrumental in creating the modern “rock doc.”

220px-D_A_Pennebaker_2_by_David_Shankbone source

 

Written by LW

July 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another”*…

 

philosophy

There comes a moment in every philosophy student’s life, perhaps when struggling through a logic set or trying to parse some impenetrable Derrida essay, that the inevitable question comes up: What’s the point? A new philosophy paper, published in the June 2018 edition of the Journal of Practical Ethics, argues that there isn’t one.

At least, there’s not a singular coherent point that the field is working towards. Whereas history is clearly focused on understanding our past and biology is devoted to explaining living organisms, there’s some confusion as to philosophy’s purpose. There are clear themes of course, such as the meaning of life, and what constitutes reality. But the subject is huge and sprawling, encompassing questions about metaphysics, epistemology, language, and ethics, among others. Is the point of philosophy to unravel the nature of the universe, or how we know what we know, or the role of language, or answer some other great question?…

Find out why (and whether it matters) at “What’s the point of philosophy? A new philosophy paper says there isn’t one.

* René Descartes

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As we wax philosophical, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that Billboard Magazine reported that the teenage dance craze, The Twist, was being picked up by the adult crowd in Philadelphia.

twist source

 

Written by LW

July 14, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible”*…

 

Many scientists know the pain of meeting a stranger at cocktail party or sitting down at Thanksgiving and getting this question: So, what’s your research about?

Though trying to distill the function of mRNA in gene expression into a few minutes of intelligible chit chat may seem as hard as earning a Ph.D., the ability to communicate complex research to the general public is of the utmost importance.

So to help academics everywhere, American Association for the Advancement of Science launched the annual “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest. Now in it’s ninth year, the contest requires grad students translate their often complex research into a new format, giving them a different perspective on their work and a chance to communicate their findings with the public. It’s also fun…

The full story (replete with videos of victorious performances) at “Jive to the Academic Beat With This Year’s ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ Winners.”

* Richard Feynman

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As we let the spirits move us, we might recall that it was on this date in 1993 that the Roman Catholic Church admitted that it had erred in condemning Galileo.  For over 359 years, the Church had excoriated Galileo’s contentions (e.g., that the Earth revolves around the Sun) as anti-scriptural heresy.  In 1633, at age 69, Galileo had been forced by the Roman Inquisition to repent, and spent the last eight years of his life under house arrest.  After 13 years of inquiry, Pope John Paul II’s commission of historic, scientific and theological scholars brought the pontiff a “not guilty” finding for Galileo; the Pope himself met with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences to help correct the record.

Galileo (standing; white collar, dark smock) showing the Doge of Venice (seated) how to use the telescope. From a fresco by Giuseppe Bertini

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“Yes, but does Maine have anything to SAY to Florida?”*…

 

The Rite of Spring: dancers in Nicholas Roerich’s original costumes

Art takes time, both to be created and to be understood. On May 29, 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, a ballet, premiered in Paris and promptly saw its audience descend into chaos. What was this new noise calling itself orchestral music? Did they hate it? Did they like it? Were they supposed to like it? Now the ballet and score are classics, but for some critics, this new style was simply another nail in the coffin of true artistry…

From Henry T. Fink’s The Noble Contempt for Melody (1914):

Are melodies out of fashion? Not with the public, which enjoys them more than ever. But the tailless foxes known as Futurists or cacophonists are doing their darnedest to create the impression that they are building up a new musical art, far nobler than the music of the past, into which so puerile a thing as melody cannot be allowed to enter.

Not content with boycotting melody, these cubists also make war on concord. Not for them is what Shakespeare called the “sweet concord of sounds.” Their music is an endless chain of premeditated discords—shrill, harsh, ear piercing. Concord, they tell us in word and deed, is for the old fogeys who like melodies and other sweets. The musical dishes of the future, according to their recipes, will be made up entirely of mustard, horseradish, vinegar, red pepper, curry, and asafetida. Guten appetit, kinder!

Scriabin, Stravinsky, Ferruccio Busoni, Leo Ornstein, Erik Satie, and a dozen others have thrown their hats in the ring, and each one tries to go the others one better in the cult of cacophony and general lawlessness. They remind one of the sportsmen who vie with each other in breeding ugliness into bulldogs.

From the ever-illuminating Lapham’s Quarterly.

* (Our old friend) Ralph Waldo Emerson

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As we trip the light fantastic, we might recall that it was on this date in 1982 that President Ronald Reagan signed the unanimously-passed Resolution of the Joint Houses of Congress, declaring square dancing the national folk dance of the United States.

Bent Creek Ranch Square Dance Team dancing at the Mountain Music Festival, Asheville, North Carolina (c. 1940)

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Written by LW

June 1, 2016 at 1:01 am

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