Fakultäten » Philosophische Fakultät » Filmwissenschaft, Seminar für » Prof. Dr. Margrit Tröhler » Trenka

Completed research project

Title / Titel Jumping the Color Line: Vernacular Jazz Dance in American Film, 1929–1945
PDF Abstract (PDF, 14 KB)
Original title / Originaltitel
Summary / Zusammenfassung This dissertation looks at cinematic representations of African American dance culture from the 1920s to the mid-1940s. The project will focus on popular forms of both dance and film, that is to say, dance styles and film genres commonly considered to belong to the entertainment side of the “art vs. entertainment” dichotomy. Since jazz and jazz-derived styles make up most of the dance music, popular African American dance from that time is sometimes also called jazz dance, an umbrella term encompassing a wide variety of solo, partner and group dances, both improvised and choreographed (Charleston, Lindy Hop, Shim Sham, Tap, to name but a few). These popular styles, danced on- and off-stage as well as on-screen, have been crucial in defining the sensibilities, representations and mythologies of what has come to be known as the Jazz Age (1920s) and the Swing Era (1930s to early 40s), respectively.
My research will focus on these periods of extraordinary black creativity, with large amounts of African American music and dance made available to a mass audience for the first time through records and films. An equally important reason for choosing this time frame lies in the fact that much of the material produced outside of, or on the margins of Hollywood’s feature film industry has received little, if any, academic attention. In addition to mainstream features, my corpus will thus include theatrical short films and Soundies. Largely forgotten today, but hugely popular back in the day, these short forms provide an important complement, and contrast to, mainstream narrative film.
The aim of the project is to explore the manifold ways in which African American dance in film reflects and contributes to the body discourses of the period. One of the main questions will focus on colonialist constructions of race and gender, as well as their subversion through individual performance, i.e. how does the dancing cinematic body interact with textually and intertextually coded types and stereotypes, roles or star images? Furthermore, I will look at the complex and contradictory processes of exchange, appropriation and assimilation between black and white dance cultures.
Publications / Publikationen Weitere Informationen
Project leadership and contacts /
Projektleitung und Kontakte
lic.phil Susanne Trenka (Project Leader)
Funding source(s) /
Unterstützt durch
Universität Zürich (position pursuing an academic career), SNF (Personen- und Projektförderung)
SNF Personen-und Projektförderung: 01.11.2011- 31.10.2012
Duration of Project / Projektdauer Oct 2007 to Mar 2015