Choreographer Camille A. Brown Tracks the History of Black Social Dance

Her brisk TED-Talk video spans the deep history of Black dance innovation in 25 dances.

Ernest Hardyby Ernest Hardy

Back in 2012, Salon writer Alex Pareene brilliantly eviscerated the cult of insipid TED-Talks in an article titled “Why TED is a Massive, Money-soaked Orgy of Self-Congratulatory Futurism.” It included gems like:

The model for your standard TED talk is a late-period Malcolm Gladwell book chapter. Common tropes include:

  • Drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems.
  • Technologically utopian solutions to said complex problems.
  • Unconventional (and unconvincing) explanations of the origins of said complex problems.
  • Staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights.

What’s most important is a sort of genial feel-good sense that everything will be OK, thanks in large part to the brilliance and beneficence of TED conference attendees. (Well, that and a bit of Vegas magician-with-PowerPoint stagecraft.)

That on-point savaging hasn’t stopped the TED stage from being the ultimate career goal of hordes of 21st century public intellectuals/professional public speakers who build their brands and hawk their content in the quest to be rock stars with intellectual cred, with the TED stage being their coronation. But occasionally – every once in a while – something genuinely cool and worthwhile makes it way down the TED pike, and it’s usually not making grandiose claims even as it recasts what you thought you knew about a subject.

Camille A. Brown. Photo courtesy AlvinAiley.org

Camille A. Brown. Photo courtesy AlvinAiley.org

In her TED presentation, acclaimed choreographer Camille A. Brown explains what dance is, what social dance is, and how the practices/manifestations and trajectory of Black social dance is embedded with complex politics ranging from those of slavery to Jim Crow to the birth of hip-hop – and so much more. It’s a fast-moving and dense clip, as enthralling as it is illuminating. And as it takes these dances back to their roots, historicizing and contextualizing them for the 21st century viewer, it also underscores the ways in which Blackness is the well the whole world draws from.

Click here for a transcript of the presentation.

Top photo screenshot courtesy TED.com