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Cultures in Motion$
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Daniel T. Rodgers, Bhavani Raman, and Helmut Reimitz

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780691159096

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691159096.001.0001

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The Challenge Dance

The Challenge Dance

Black-Irish Exchange in Antebellum America

(p.23) Chapter 1 The Challenge Dance
Cultures in Motion

April F. Masten

Princeton University Press

This chapter examines the transnational origins of the challenge dance, a distinctly American tradition of brag dancing, and the ways in which Irish and African dance forms converged and collided in the taverns of New York City in the early nineteenth century. Part theater, part sport, challenge dances emerged in the antebellum era alongside boxing. Dance matches were the product of the intersecting diasporas and cultural exchange of Irish and African emigrants moving through the Atlantic world. The chapter first considers the compatibilities in African and Irish dance traditions before discussing the genealogy of challenge dancing. It then looks at challenge dance competitions held on streets and in taverns as part of white and blackface shows. It also describes a cultural space and moment in which working-class blacks and whites saw enough likeness in their dance traditions to frame a space of public, popular competition.

Keywords:   challenge dance, Irish dance, African dance, taverns, New York City, cultural exchange, Irish emigrants, African emigrants, challenge dance competitions, cultural space

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