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Identity – appropriation

I’m descended from slaves on one side and the colonised Irish on the other, with roots and relatives in Barbados, Ireland, North America and Australia. My identity is drawn from the legacy of British empire and the various forms of resistance against it – the clash of cultures and the mosaic patterns that formed in the aftermath. I'm interested in diverse cultural responses to the challenges of being human. We need to pay more attention to responses that will sustain life on this planet, rather than destroying it. 

Dance connects me to my African diaspora music and stories, the present moment, my body, my partner, my community, my sense of curiosity, and a feeling of pure joy. Lindy Hop and Blues also include European influences – often from white colonised peoples such as Scots and Irish. Blues musicians were among the first Americans to mix black and white, publicly defying legal segregation in their stage performances and collaborations... for example, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and the Jordanaires. The inclusiveness and fertility of jazz, blues and other diaspora cultures continues to this day. Folk music themes of resistance, resilience, love, sex, food, death – are universal.

I don’t usually see people ‘in black and white’, but sometimes it’s important to mention colour. For African diaspora cultures of resilience and joy to be smothered by cries of ‘cultural appropriation' would be a loss to everyone. The difference between cultural appreciation and appropriation is respect. White Australians introduced me to blues and swing dances, welcoming me warmly into their community. The welcome I’ve received in blues, swing and other dance communities all over Europe is documented in this blog for all to read. I look forward to meeting dancers all over the Americas in the coming months.

In Australia and Europe, the communities where blues and jazz vintage partner dances thrive today are urban, cosmopolitan, of majority European heritage. These are also my people. In my experience, these communities show great respect for the African origins of blues, jazz and other styles. To their credit, these communities explicitly welcome all kinds of diversity – of age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, body type etc. As long as all are welcome, then what do we have to lose by learning and sharing this rich, diverse cultural heritage?

It is necessary to learn and respect the historic context of the dance, if you want to grow as a dancer and contribute positively to the community. But please, don't file it away in a museum or or bury it under the white backlash walls of Trump. It's too precious, this living culture, this language, this bridge over troubled waters. The times of racial tension are the times we need it most.

Our is a different context, a different time –  yet these dances still bring people together in creative expression and collective joy, like they always have. If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Blues and jazz take what’s bitter, tragic or sad, make it sweet, poignant, funny, joyous. To suffer is human – so let’s make all the lemonade we can.

Sources and readings
Learn about blues culture and context


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