Soul Train 1978 – Hip Fluidity in Gender and Dance for Black Men

As I prepare to present on black girls and twerking at the Society for Ethnomusicology conference in Indianapolis this weekend, I am thinking about a reference I made to what was considered disco music by people who went to discos. I was too young for that back in Maryland outside DC at about age 13. I knew it as  black music for dancing that I heard on Howard University’s radio station for the most part, WHUR-FM, back in 1978.

I was thinking about the embodied gesture of booty-poppin itself – not related to hip-hop culture but just the socialized movement of the hips in black dance that I’ve known most of my life and I write about in the games black girls play. One called “Hot Dog” where girls learn to rotate and isolate their hips from their torso and I think boys learn it to from watching us and watching Soul Train and house parties and picnic dancing and such. I was an only child so I learned it from my Mama, a single parent, and from shows like Soul Train nationally or the Moonman’s dance show locally broadcast in D.C.

About a week ago. I had recently watched a Soul Train video and passed it around on my FB wall. Instead of trying to find it, I just searched “1978 Soul Train” to find the video above which serendipitously shows evidence of men expressing much more fluidity in the hips — yes booty poppin — and there being much more parity and interdependence in the dancing of the Soul Train line.

Why did I choose 1978? It was the year of the song that came to mind this morning that featured talk about “booty-poppin.” Ashford & Simpson’s “Get Up (and Do Something)”Check the last choruses of the track.

What comes to mind about the men’s dancing first is this: has our dancing changed in response to the myth of the black matriarch and the Monhiyan report from a decade earlier (1965)? 1978 was big Afros and black power, right? Sovereignty was an idea planted by Black Panthers since the 60s.  The dancers here are young people, 20 somethings, late teens. And they seem so on par with one another. There’s no female or male dominance in the display. And no objectification. And there is  sexuality and sensuality but it’s not what’s on display. It’s group and social cohesion.

What I also like about this clip is that they are promoting a common cause which I don’t have time to study today. But the notions of participatory culture are the heart and soul of black culture since Reconstruction led to Jim Crow culture.

We had few resources yes but we made do with all that. Now we have technology out the wazoo (pardon the pun) but most don’t use it to challenge their dominant narratives of sexuality, gender identity expression, masculinity or femininity in imaginative ways. Ok, I am probably exaggerating a bit but at the same time I see much more social innovation happening outside the rank-and-file of our working class and lower middle class communities if YouTube is any sign of things.

There are environmental or ecological issues to talk about but I don’t have time today. Even cognitive fitness issues and willpower to speak of but I gotsa run today. Off to Indianapolis!!

Best, K


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