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Rewriting the Body: Aida Overton Walker and the Social Formation of Cakewalking

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2009


Although Aida Overton Walker (1880–1914) belonged to the same generation of turn-of-the-century African American performers as did Bob Cole, J. Rosamond Johnson, Bert Williams, and George Walker, she had a rather different view of how best to represent her race and gender in the performing arts. Walker taught white society in New York City how to do the Cakewalk, a celebratory dance with links to West African festival dance. In Walker's choreography of it, it was reconfigured with some ingenuity to accommodate race, gender, and class identities in an era in which all three were in flux. Her strategy depended on being flexible, on being able to make the transition from one cultural milieu to another, and on adjusting to new patterns of thinking. Walker had to elaborate her choreography as hybrid, merging her interpretation of cakewalking with the preconceptions of a white culture that became captivated by its form. To complicate matters, Walker's choreography developed during a particularly unstable and volatile period. As Anna Julia Cooper remarked in 1892.

Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 1996

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