"From Coon to Cool"
Format: Hardcover, 352pp
Pub. Date: October 2003
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Reviewed by Rondall Brasher
This book actually came to my attention last month on the home page of African American Literature Book Club. Troy had it in the revolving new titles and the title immediately caught my eye. My wife is a professional dancer and makes her living choreographing and teaching. I have become an avid fan of the art form, but this book goes far beyond the artistic expression of dance.
The Black Dancing Body: A geography from coon to cool is a thesis by Brenda Dixon Gottschild that examines the taboo references to the physical aesthetics of the ethnically African body. Gottschild has meticulously gathered some of the most influential dancers/choreographers of contemporary American dance to probe their points of view on the aspects of the black dancing body. Some of the noted contributors are; Bill T. Jones, Ron Brown, Garth Fagan, Wendy Perron, Meri’n Soto, Fernando Bujones, Ralph Lemon, Chuck Davis, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, all of them from a myriad of dance backgrounds and cultures. All of them acutely aware of the society's perception of Black dance and the Black dancing body. Through a series interviews Gottschild amassed a supposition that is extraordinary at the very least.
Gottschild's approach to her subject matter can be analogous to turning on the microphone while someone is whispering. She is bold with exposing truth. Her suppositions are substantiated by historical research, personal experiences, and expert testimonies. Gottschild takes an in depth look beyond the aestheticisms of the black dancing body, but also the Africanist influences on most contemporary American dance. Her time-geographical journey travels from the pride of the African coast to the staged denigration of minstrel slapstick movement. It encompasses the assimilation of African culture in contemporary American dance to the point of homogeny.
This is Gottschild's third book (after Waltzing in the Dark and Digging the Africanist Presence in American Performance). In this series she examines the influences and acculturation of Africanist dance movement as the result of the African Diaspora. She tackles the arduous task of trying to define what is Black dance, a stereotypical term that she struggles with to accept its implications. She writes, "I don't believe there is such a phenomenon as black and white dance or even a black or white dancing body. [Yet] I cannot ignore or escape these terms. My strategy for going beyond them is to move through them."
What I found most striking about this book is the educed self-examination that Gottschild imposes on herself. She establishes her conjecture through strikingly familiar personal experiences coupled with probing conversations with respected professionals. Her observations confront her personal fears of being defined as a Black dancer. During this journey she finds that society sees her and other Black dancers are a sum of their parts. Gottschild's supplicates the hopes of many Black dancers of today. She offers in depths look at the world of dance while advertently exposing the implications of that the dance guild is a microcosm of America itself. This book provides an excellent survey of the persistent crusade by Blacks to get beyond being identified by their: "Feet," "Soul/Spirit," "Skin/Hair," or their "Butt".
The Black Dancing Body: A geography from coon to cool, celebrates the
perceived strength of bodies forged by the hard work of our ancestors. The
ethnic characteristics of ’so called’ Black bodies are lauded as the paragons of
physical beauty today. Gottschild's work in examining this subject is
reminiscent of the writings of Joel Augustus Rogers (1883-1966) author of From
Superman to Man. She has done a commendable job on a subject very difficult to
define. This book will be appreciated far beyond the dance community. I strongly
recommend it to anyone interested the deconstruction of racial mythology and