I have come to believe that improvised dance involves literally giving
shape to oneself by deciding how to move in relation to an unsteady
landscape.
—DANIELLE GOLDMAN
What we manage to do each time we win a victory is not so much to
secure change once and for all, but rather to create new terrains for
struggle.
—ANGELA Y. DAVIS
What would history look like if it were to acknowledge the fact of
improvisation?
—SUSAN LEIGH FOSTER
Writing from the Tangle
How does one write on a crowded dance fl oor—any crowded dance fl oor—
never mind a famous crowded dance fl oor that existed over sixty years ago?1
Th e writer can interview people who were there, read what others have written,
and sift the archives for photos, ephemera, and newspaper clippings, but she
cannot actually perch in the raft ers and record the interactions below. Nor
can her interviewees actually re create their points of view from the dance
fl oor. Even if total recall was an option, eyewitnesses could never identify all
of the bodies that aff ected their experiences and memories. Th ey wouldn’t
have been able to see beyond the heads and shoulders of those with whom
they danced any more than I can see beyond those with whom I spoke. Nor
would our interactions be the same on a diff erent day. Oral history, like dance,
is dynamic, interactive, and shaped by embodied knowledge of participants.
Introduction
Writing on a Crowded Dance Floor
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