In search of prancing J-setters and creole quadrilles: Modern Moves is on the move

October and November 2017 sees some exciting developments as our research team splits into two in order to conduct simultaneous field trips in the Indian Ocean and the United States. Project director Ananya Kabir and Postdoctoral Research Associate Elina Djebbari will travel for a month through the Indian Ocean islands of Mauritius, Seychelles, and La Reunion, while Postdoctoral Research Associate Madison Moore and PhD student Leyneuf Tines will travel for a month through New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Mississippi, and Atlanta. The overall mission is to fill existing lacuna in the research data as Modern Moves draws to a close, so as to fulfil some important items on our research agenda: meshing the kinetic histories of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean; developing a comparative hemispheric understanding of the ways in which Afro-diasporic social dance styles evolve through the twentieth century across the Americas; and analysing how the couple dance form came to dominate in some parts of the world but not in others.

In the Indian Ocean world, Kabir and Djebbari will search for historical evidence and contemporary manifestations of the European social dance known as the quadrille, which until the advent of closed couple dances such as the waltz, were pretty much the rage across the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. The creolised versions of the quadrille they will study include the iconic Indian Ocean genre, the Sega. The trip will include a week in Dakar in order to attend the sparkling intellectual gathering, Les Ateliers de la Pensee, organised by Professor Achille Mbembe and Dr Felwine Sarr. They will also attend the Dakar Kizomba Festival, which will deepen their understanding of the kizomba scene in West Africa.

In the United States, in the meanwhile, Moore and Tines will track the history and practice of ‘processional’ and spectacular dance styles exemplified by J-Setting, but they will also study New Orleans bounce and visit dance studios in LA to understand the ways in which these vernacular street style enter the big and small screens. Focusing on the role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their dane troupes in offering safe spaces for the flourishing of vernacular dance forms, they will attend try-outs of the famous Prancing J-Settes, and also participate in the Atlanta street party ‘Freaknik’. Overall they will uncover the legacies of black street dance styles, especially as they connect to questions of queerness, gender, and embodiment.

Both research visits will combine archival research in libraries and special collections with interviews with dancers and choreographers, and the embodied practice of participating in dance workshops and local nightclubs, and of course, the festivals and special events that the visits have been synchronised with. Two very different worlds encompassing the ‘islands, cities, oceans’ that have been at the heart of Modern Moves!

To keep you updated about these exciting field trips unfolding in two different parts of the world, we will publish weekly ‘dispatches’ from east and west on the Modern Moves blog and snippets on our Facebook page. We hop you will enjoy being part of these journeys!