Naomi Bragin

Hip-Hop Dance Is Black Power: Kinesthetic Politics and Black Performance

My dissertation project is the first major theoretical investigation of the California foundations of hip-hop dance. My project forms a ‘Left’ Coast archive of 1970s Black Power, Gay Liberation, Funk, and Disco Era dance styles. Audiences worldwide learned these dances during weekly broadcasts of Soul Train, television’s longest running black popular music and dance show. I argue black communities performed kinesthetic politics—critical consciousness of power and difference, realized through a collective sense of motion. Soul Train dances also came from gay underground clubs, complicating views of hip-hop as rigidly gendered and inherently homophobic, and suggesting kinesthetic politics could queer black political consciousness. I study how kinesthetic politics produces collective techniques—aesthetic principles of movement, abstracted from shared, everyday experience, which train people to move, and know, together.

My project for Summer 2013 will be two months of research in Los Angeles, to gather original documentation of West Coast street dance culture. First, I will study street dance technique by observing studio classes, practice sessions, dance battles, and community events. Second, I will record personal interviews with first generation Soul Train dancers. Third, I will conduct archival research in the personal collections of first generation and contemporary street dance practitioners.