Modern dance, Negro dance and Katherine Dunham1

Susan A Manning*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This article deploys the anachronistic term 'Negro dance' to query the relations between American modem dance and black concert dance from 1930, when the two practices emerged in tandem, to 1967-68 when 'black dance' replaced 'Negro dance' in common usage. During this period modern dance and Negro dance staged interdependent representations of blackness, whiteness and queerness on the American stage. These representations did not necessarily reduce to either the skin colour or the sexual orientation of the dancers. Rather, blackness, whiteness and queerness became perceptual constructs on stage, ways for linking physical bodies and social meanings. For most spectators, the visibility of blackness opposed the invisibility of whiteness. While queerness was visible to some spectators, it remained invisible to others. This larger argument is illustrated through a case study of Katherine Dunham's reception from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. During the heyday of the Popular Front, only a few spectators recognized Dunham's performance of diaspora. During the years of the Second World War her performance of diaspora became legible to a broad range of theatre-goers. At the same time some spectators came to perceive her performance of black sexual dissidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)487-505
Number of pages19
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001


  • Black
  • Concert
  • Dance
  • Dunham
  • Katherine
  • Modern
  • Performance
  • Performativity
  • Queer
  • Reception
  • Theatrical

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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