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The Creolization of American CultureWilliam Sidney Mount and the Roots of Blackface Minstrelsy$
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Christopher J. Smith

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037764

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037764.001.0001

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Akimbo Culture

Akimbo Culture

Dance and the Participatory Pleasures of the Body

(p.173) 6 Akimbo Culture
The Creolization of American Culture

Christopher J. Smith

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the physical and participatory implications of blackface dance, and the dance cultures more generally, depicted by William Sidney Mount. It also uses the evidence drawn from Mount's visual depictions to locate prototypical blackface dance vocabularies and rhythmic practices in vernacular art works of the earlier nineteenth century. The chapter first considers the resources for recovering the kinesics of minstrelsy, along with visible evidence of Afro-Caribbean influence on bodily kinesics, before turning to juba and the aesthetics of African movement. It then analyzes Mount's choreological evidence to illustrate the consistency with which he records and manipulates the cultural associations of body vocabulary, as well as his integration of the creole synthesis in his works. It argues that it was rhythm and dance that accounts for minstrelsy's remarkably immediate yet enduring popularity and influence. It shows that, in addition to the symbolic transgression of bourgeois grace implicit in Jim Crow's akimbo representation, the images' anatomical distortions also capture movement, not stasis. The chapter concludes by looking at the so-called “bending knee-bone” in blackface performance.

Keywords:   blackface dance, William Sidney Mount, minstrelsy, bodily kinesics, juba, body vocabulary, creole synthesis, rhythm and dance, akimbo, bending knee-bone

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