American Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk
In American Dancing: From the Cakewalk to the Moonwalk, Megan Pugh uses the history of dance in America as a way to explore larger questions about race, class and, ultimately, American identity.
Dance is a continually evolving hybrid in Pugh's account. Black slaves borrow from the French quadrille and Irish step dancing to create the cakewalk and tap dancing. White teenagers adopt and adapt dances from black culture in the 1920s, and again in the 1950s and 1960s. Agnes de Mille and other choreographers use steps from tap and square dancing to transform the ballet into an American form. The borrowing is not always innocent: the blackface of the minstrel show is the most obvious point at which racism is a driving element in the story. The dance floor becomes an arena in which divergent strands of American culture meet, meld, separate and meet again--creating a recognizably American dance vocabulary in the process.
Pugh handles dance as an art form and its historical context with equal deftness. She builds her book around the personal stories of some of the biggest names in American dance: Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, the Castles, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Michael Jackson and choreographers Agnes de Mille and Paul Taylor. Not only does Pugh draw sometimes unexpected connections among them and place them within her larger story, she also describes their dancing so vividly that readers will want to see the dances themselves--something she anticipates with a detailed list of dance films and videos. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins