Friday, June 13, 2008

dance stiffly

Is it racist to say that white folks don't dance well?

I'm pretty sure it's not racist to say they even if they don't dance well, they still should dance more often.

fan video for "Air War"
by Crystal Castles

[this post is part of a series on white dancing, including "dance sweetly" and "dance at whites only parties"; hat-tip for the video to Ortho at Baudrillard's Bastard]


  1. I hate to touch this topic, but have to say that white folks walk away with the prize when it comes to River Dancing.

  2. True enough, Kit. And that's pretty stiff dancing too. Not to mention oddly martial. Almost militant.

  3. I do love this part, enjoy :-)

  4. Yeah its racist to use universal terms that are disparaging...but sometimes we all fall prey to stereotypes it is how we have come to understand and function in this world. Crack it up to modernist thinking...

  5. If you can find it, read anything by Vernon and Irene Castle. They had the definitive take on white people dancing back in the 1920's. They very gently suggested that it might be good for the health to allow the pelvis to move slightly in dance. They were very daring for the time.

  6. Is it racist to say that white folks don't dance well?

    If white people don't dance well, then which people dance well?

  7. Right, Restructure.

    By which I mean, I agree with what I read as your rhetorical question.

    Jon, thanks for the Vernon and Irene Castle reference. I'll see what I can find.

  8. Forgive me for sounding a bit racist but I've noticed that other races don't seem to have a problem with dancing as a group. Asian and Latino/Hispanic's are able to dance well with ease. I've come across some very racist theories for the reason why whites have a problem dancing without counting steps but I don't agree with them.

  9. Some Asians dance stiffly and robotically, while others dance well. It's pretty useless to generalize, because it's not the case that some races are born with natural dancing ability.

    I think Kanye West doesn't dance well and dances kinda stiffly.

  10. Are you, Macon, and other people saying that dancing ability is related to innate qualities, or socialized qualities?

    I'm kind-of led to thinking about melanin re dancing, as something inborn that would explain innate differences in dancing abilities, if we're saying that differences in dancing ability seem to be innate.

    At a protest rally I attended, some black people were on a small stage in the middle of one of the green outdoor spaces on the mall in D.C., and at the end there was singing and dancing on stage.

    Grown women were the ones dancing, with one young girl about twelve years old.

    The women were moving to the music, and people were enjoying watching their dancing, and the girl stood out to me because her body movements looked so self-conscious.

    She looked very much like she was trying to dance unself-consciously, and not succeeding. She had that look on her face of consciously trying to look like she didn't feel self-conscious.

    I do remember thinking that she seemed 'white' in that regard of self-consciousness.

    She seemed so self-conscious and shy, she was unable to flow with the moment/with the music.

    The self-consciousness and shyness struck me as more typical of 'white' people than of black people.

    I guess shyness is correlated with inhibition, i.e. as in dancing, but I do question that perception that I had.

    Probably there is as much shyness in black people as in white people.

    Maybe black people at least in the past have had the feeling they couldn't show any vulnerability like shyness, or any selfishness -- like thinking of oneself, rather than thinking of others, as in self-consciousness, when with white people, and that led to sterotypes based on people not free to be themselves.

    Re melanin -- some researchers say that lack of melanin has an association with incidence of inborn shyness. Some researchers have posited that more blue-eyed kids are shy than brown-eyed kids, related to melanin differential in the brain. Anyone know anything more?

    I find this is an area where white people don't like to go, but I don't think there should be any area where people don't like to go in searching for all truth.

  11. Hey karen,

    Do you have a link to that study? I'm interested in psychology, so that kinda stuff is interesting to me.

  12. Restructure,

    This is from just the first thing I found on Google right now in a one minute search, so I don't know the validity of this and will search more, but I can't remember where I initially read that research.

    It was a long time ago, way back in the'70's or '80's I think, and I remember it because I was marrying a man with brownish eyes and I have blue eyes and I was interested. That study had said that statistically blue eyed are better baseball pitchers and brown eyed were better -- hitters?, I think it was?, or maybe something else.

    [begin quote]
    ...psychologist Jerome Kagan has found that children with pale pigment, in particular children with blue eyes, are far more likely to be shy and inhibited than dark-eyed children. They are the most likely to be fearful of new situations, hesitant in approaching someone, quiet with a new person, and the most likely to stay close to their mothers. Brown-eyed children are bolder. Kagan speculates that fear of novelty, melanin production and corticorsteroid levels share some of the same genes.

    His theory is speculative, suggesting that when people migrated to northern Europe they were faced with the problem of keeping up a body temperature that was used to a warmer climate. A mutation that increased the efficiency of the sympathetic nervous system and upped the level of norepinephrine...would have also raised the body temperature and offered a survival advantage. Unfortunately, it would have left them with a more reactive nervous system and a more timorous temperament. Where does the pigment come in? High levels of norepinephrine can inhibit the production of melanin in the iris and can increase the level of circulating glucosteroids that can inhibit melanin production as well. So blond hair and blue eyes and shyness may be a common biological package....
    [end quote]

    This seems an example of correlated response, the fitness cost of being extremely introverted in the northern European context is balanced in this case by other considerations (whether it be direct adaptation to the environment or sexual advantages). I would also not be surprised if in the EEA, where bands would be very large at 100 individuals (perhaps much smaller in Ice Age Europe) and inter-tribal interactions might have been rare, the relative fitness cost of being shy around "strangers" would have been much smaller, since there was little possibility of building large social networks which one could use to enhance social status, ergo, reproductive success. Contrast this with the "modern" context, attested to in books like The Tipping Point, where "connectors" can serve as nodes for social networks on the order of thousands of individuals, and parlay their gregariousness into careers in sales or leadership positions in business or government. I will make a tentative prediction that populations with a longer history of dense living & complex social structures [agriculture, urbanism] will have a smaller proportion of "shy" individuals.

    In any case, the book above was published in 2000, so the author did not write with knowledge of the recent work that suggests northern peoples have a cold adapted metabolism. For those curious, here is Kagan's original article (he seems not to have fleshed out his theory much at this point), and a follow-up by another researcher that suggests that only blue-eyed males are particularly shy (blue-eyed females showing no difference). The above studies seem to have had samples composed of peoples of European ancestry, so one need not presume that brown-eyed Japanese are on average more outgoing than blue-eyed Swedes.

  13. Oddly enough...I have no rhythm..and I consider myself 'black', although my father is Irish and my mother is black...My father actually is a pretty good dancer...I think it depends on what a person is exposed to.

  14. Restructure,

    I just searched 'Jerome Kagan' who is referenced in the pasted previous post, and he's a psychology professor at Harvard.

    Which doesn't mean that his ideas have validity, mainstream people are frequently wrong! But anyway, he's someone with credentials etc.

  15. Oddly enough, I thought the women in the video danced great.

    What universal criteria can we use to evaluate a person's dancing ability? To me, it seems like a purely subjective endeavor.

    I must admit Macon, I enjoyed watching the video. Youtube at its best!

  16. I see nothing wrong with liking this video, Ortho. I like it too, which is why I posted it. "Stiff" dancing isn't necessarily "bad" dancing. Thanks again for leading me to it--the music videos you post always shiver my timbers (in a good way, I mean).

  17. To wonder if it's racist to say white people can't dance is like saying Japanese people like cute things. It's stereotyping, not racism. The two are very different things. Stereotyping is lazy, but not necessarily negative, whereas racism by definition (the belief that one race of people is inherently better than another race) is negative. And one must consider that race as a concept is a European one, backed up with all sorts of pseudo-scientific theories that have been given up out of intellectual embarrassment.

    So let's not use a weighty word such as racist to allege something cute like white people can't dance.


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