How The Waltz Has Won: Towards A Waltz Aesthetic

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Martin, Christopher Tremewan
Carpenter, Faedra C
This dissertation examines the development of ballroom dancing aesthetics between 1860 and 1915, focusing on the appropriation, neutralization, and commodification of African American somatic performance by various European American agents/actors. The study suggests that the waltz, a dance form that was in decline at the beginning of the twentieth century, became a vital component of European American strategies to safely encapsulate certain elements of African American aesthetics while eliminating others. This negotiation of African American aesthetics into European American performance is presented as a part of a broader discourse concerned with the maintenance of white hegemony during this period. The work is grounded in the field theory best articulated by Pierre Bourdieu, and the critical race theories of Michal Omi and Howard Winant. From Bourdieu the work draws upon three key terms: habitus, codes of perception, and hexis. Taken together these terms provide the structure for contextualizing the choices made by dancers, dancing teachers, and social reformers who were concerned with modifying ballroom dance forms that had been influenced by African American aesthetics. Omi and Winant's work provide a matrix for understanding the choices of these diverse individuals and organizations as a racial project embedded in a discourse of white hegemony that, even at its most progressive, sought to maintain the hegemony of white, European American culture.