cover image Black Dance in America: A History Through Its People

Black Dance in America: A History Through Its People

James Haskins. T.Y. Crowell Junior Books, $15 (232pp) ISBN 978-0-690-04657-1

Despite the enduring influence of black dance on American culture, few writers have documented it. Haskins ( Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson ) fills this curious void admirably. Without assuming a previous knowledge of dance, he begins at the beginning--the compulsory dancing African slaves were forced to do on board ships bound for the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries--and follows the story almost to the present day, discussing the very different achievements of Katherine Dunham, Pearl Primus, Arthur Mitchell, Chubby Checker, Gregory Hines and many others. The author considers the persistent racism faced by black American dancers in pursuing their careers (even today, few are members of major ballet companies, for example), but his account is utterly free of cant, presenting a clear picture of trials endured and triumphs met. The history is inclusive and up-to-date, save for very recent events (the death of Alvin Ailey, Judith Jamison's appointment to head his company, and the current financial woes of the Dance Theater of Harlem). The book should be of interest to young readers and adults alike. 12-up. (Apr.)