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Belonging While Black: A Choreography of Imagined Silence in Early Modern African Diasporic Dance

Terry, Esther J (2017) Belonging While Black: A Choreography of Imagined Silence in Early Modern African Diasporic Dance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this dissertation, I examine specifically how and why historical narratives of African American theatre begin with minstrelsy and Jim Crow’s dancing body. Working with the process of historical production from Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past, I trace the related emergence of an imagined and Europeanist dancing body alongside the imagined and Black dancing body. I use imagined, following Susan Leigh Foster, because written sources and historical narratives do not facilitate physical or corporeal access. In Early Modern archives, I reveal how European dance masters and philosophers elevated court dancing and noble decorum into the imagined and ideal human. The imagined Europeanist and noble dancing body became the principal historiographic human figure in legitimated dance histories. Concurrently, I show how European travel writing negated imagined Black dancing bodies as inhuman, savage and bestial bodies, disqualifying them as imagined dancing bodies for inclusion in historical narratives. Thus, when scholars go to archived sources, with choreographed ballet and imagined Europeanist dancing bodies as the legitimated carriers of dance history, Thomas Dartmouth Rice and early minstrel performers emerge as the first qualified and documented dancing bodies moving through sub-Saharan repertoires. By further recuperating seventeenth-century, European-language sources on leaping and mock combat, I question the exclusion of airborne and martial repertoires from historical narratives of Black dance from West Africa to the United States. I argue that the process of silencing airborne leaps and staged combat from West African belonging lays the philosophical and historiographic groundwork for originating and containing sub-Saharan influences within plantation and minstrelsy belonging. By revealing where we are, philosophically speaking, in historical narratives of Black dance, and how we got to this point, I propose an extensive re-mapping of sub-Saharan influence through and across the Sahara and Mediterranean, prior to and alongside the trans-Atlantic trade.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Terry, Esther Jejt17@pitt.eduEJT17
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairJackson-Schebetta, Lisalisajsch@pitt.eduLISAJSCH
Committee MemberGranshaw, Michellemkg31@pitt.eduMKG31
Committee MemberGeorge, Kathleengeorgeke@pitt.eduGEORGEKE
Committee MemberDoshi, Neildoshi@pitt.eduDOSHI
Date: 2 February 2017
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 September 2016
Approval Date: 2 February 2017
Submission Date: 2 November 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 310
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Theater Arts
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Black dance; Atlantic history; Performance Studies; Blackface minstrelsy; Black theatre; Dance Studies
Date Deposited: 02 Feb 2017 17:00
Last Modified: 03 Feb 2017 06:15

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