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Popular Dances of the 1960s-70s and Ballet: Background information when reading The Swans of Harlem

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The Swans of Harlem

Five Black Ballerinas, Fifty Years of Sisterhood, and Their Reclamation of a Groundbreaking History

by Karen Valby

The Swans of Harlem by Karen Valby X
The Swans of Harlem by Karen Valby
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  • Published:
    Apr 2024, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Erin Lyndal Martin
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About this Book

Popular Dances of the 1960s-70s and Ballet

This article relates to The Swans of Harlem

In The Swans of Harlem, Karen Valby explains how Arthur Mitchell sought to make ballet appealing and relevant to a Black audience. He and his dancers regularly visited schools to give talks and performances. Mitchell loved to point out how ballet could help the students in their daily lives. He'd tell the boys how much higher they could jump during basketball if they learned to jeté. He would demonstrate how you could find ballet anywhere and would break down the latest dance trends to prove it—while making ballet more approachable at the same time.

One popular dance was the "Camel Walk." That was a ragtime dance popular in vaudeville in the 1920s, but it had a resurgence in the '60s and '70s as a retro craze—one that inspired James Brown and Michael Jackson. The '60s version was a sort of hunched shuffle. Try learning it here:

When Mitchell demonstrated the walk, he probably pointed out how you have to remember moves for your hands and feet, keeping tight...

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