Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen

Duke University Press
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Open from 1942 until 1945, the Hollywood Canteen was the most famous of the patriotic home front nightclubs where civilian hostesses jitterbugged with enlisted men of the Allied Nations. Since the opening night, when the crowds were so thick that Bette Davis had to enter through the bathroom window to give her welcome speech, the storied dance floor where movie stars danced with soldiers has been the subject of much U.S. nostalgia about the "Greatest Generation." Drawing from oral histories with civilian volunteers and military guests who danced at the wartime nightclub, Sherrie Tucker explores how jitterbugging swing culture has come to represent the war in U.S. national memory. Yet her interviewees' varied experiences and recollections belie the possibility of any singular historical narrative. Some recall racism, sexism, and inequality on the nightclub's dance floor and in Los Angeles neighborhoods, dynamics at odds with the U.S. democratic, egalitarian ideals associated with the Hollywood Canteen and the "Good War" in popular culture narratives. For Tucker, swing dancing's torque—bodies sharing weight, velocity, and turning power without guaranteed outcomes—is an apt metaphor for the jostling narratives, different perspectives, unsteady memories, and quotidian acts that comprise social history.
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About the author

Sherrie Tucker is Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Swing Shift: "All-Girl" Bands of the 1940s and coeditor of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies, both also published by Duke University Press.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Oct 23, 2014
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9780822376200
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Social Science / Women's Studies
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Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

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In jazz circles, players and listeners with “big ears” hear and engage complexity in the moment, as it unfolds. Taking gender as part of the intricate, unpredictable action in jazz culture, this interdisciplinary collection explores the terrain opened up by listening, with big ears, for gender in jazz. Essays range from a reflection on the female boogie-woogie pianists who played at Café Society in New York during the 1930s and 1940s to interpretations of how the jazzman is represented in Dorothy Baker’s novel Young Man with a Horn (1938) and Michael Curtiz’s film adaptation (1950). Taken together, the essays enrich the field of jazz studies by showing how gender dynamics have shaped the production, reception, and criticism of jazz culture.

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Contributors: Christina Baade, Jayna Brown, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Monica Hairston, Kristin McGee, Tracy McMullen, Ingrid Monson, Lara Pellegrinelli, Eric Porter, Nichole T. Rustin, Ursel Schlicht, Julie Dawn Smith, Jeffrey Taylor, Sherrie Tucker, João H. Costa Vargas

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