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Review of Black Hawk Hancock (2005), 'Steppin' out of Whiteness'.

Review of Black Hawk Hancock (2005), 'Steppin' out of Whiteness'.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Doris Gentemann. Originally submitted for Social Anthropology at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Gordon Ramsay in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Doris Gentemann. Originally submitted for Social Anthropology at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Gordon Ramsay in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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11/21/2013

 
Review of Black Hawk Hancock (2005), ‘Steppin’ out of Whiteness’.
Black ain’t Black – Review of Black HawkHancock’s (2005) ‘Steppin’ out of Whiteness’,
Ethnography 
6(4):427-461.
 
KeywordsBourdieu; dance; performance; Theory of Practice; racialstudies.Abstract The text reviewed discusses an experiment of extendingBourdieu’s Theory of Practice to racial studies, based on twoyears of socio-anthropological fieldwork in the African-American dance clubs dedicated to Chicago
Steppin’ 
.Creating a confusion between their white skin and their clearcompetence in a black dance form, Hancock and his dancepartner Siragusa were able to separate race as a moreessentialising category of 
analysis
from race as a moreperformative category of 
 practice
. I question whether theiracceptance into the scene as competent dancers was onlythat – an acceptance of dancers – or a true destabilisation of concepts of race.
Right from the title, Hancock’s text is engaging, albeitinstantly recognisable as a sociological text that couldprofit from reducing its word count. The ‘Steppin’ of thetitle refers to the all-black offshoot of Lindy-Hop thatdeveloped on the South Side of Chicago. ‘Steppin’ out of Whiteness’ concerns Hancock’s and his dance partner’ssocial experiment of their total immersion in clubs whereblacks were engaged in this form of dancing, leading, ashe sees it, to their full acceptance in this scene, as
1
 
Review of Black Hawk Hancock (2005), ‘Steppin’ out of Whiteness’.
evidenced by others’ reactions. Hancock uses thisexperience to extend Bourdieu’s theory of practice toracial studies and argue ‘that race is not something thatone
is
as a static identity […] but rather a set of competences and embodied knowledges that one
enacts
in practices grounded in particular social andhistorical contexts’ (2005:427). While using the macro-social category of race in order to discuss his theme, helooks at race as it is earned, that is, ‘formed, negotiatedand challenged’, on the micro-level of social interactions(428). Through the contradiction between their whiteskin and their competence in an all-black dance form,Hancock and his dance partner Julie Siragusa created ‘aconfusion over the nature of their identity’, thusillustrating ‘the process of racialization’ (428). Hancock’saim is to debunk any notions of culture as essential,naturally occurring and spontaneously performed, ratherseeing it as ‘one of the many constructed andcontingent links among the components of race as acategory of practice’ (429).Several times throughout the article Hancock stressesthe segregated nature of Chicago; this extends to blacksand whites engaging in different dances. The formerlyall-black 1920s Lindy Hop, which had been a defiant,
2
 
Review of Black Hawk Hancock (2005), ‘Steppin’ out of Whiteness’.
athletic and creative expression of racial identity,developed into two distinct forms: the Lindy Hop asrevived in the 1990s, ‘hyper-visible’, danced by theWhite main-stream on the North Side of Chicago, andthe African-American Steppin’ danced on the SouthSide, ‘almost completely invisible to the mainstreammedia’ (429). Steppin’ is slower and smoother thanLindy Hop (430; 437). Unlike ‘Gangsta Rap’, whichWhites could appropriate as a form of protest, or Swingand Rock’n’Roll, which were easily accessible, Hancockargues that Steppin’ is ‘just too Black’ to beappropriated or ‘whitewashed’ (430). Aided bysegregation, there has been no crossover; Steppin’ cantherefore serve as a validation of an African-Americancommunity that is distinct from the dominant whiteculture, an alternative world where scorn of blacks isreplaced with ‘affirmative expressions of self’ (431,quoting Kelley).Hancock and Siragusa, using their Lindy Hop expertiseand ability to adapt to different dance forms throughtheir varied professional dance experience, eventuallywere out Steppin’ on the south and west sides of Chicago three to five times a week for two years (431). Through immersing themselves in the Steppin’ scene,
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