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Modern Moves: Kinetic Transnationalism and Afro-Diasporic Rhythm Cultures (MODERNMOVES)
Start date: Jun 1, 2013, End date: May 31, 2018 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"The movement of Africans and Europeans to the Americas through expansionism, colonialism, and slavery also brought to the New World African percussive rhythms and European musical instruments and courtly dances. This project investigates the social dances that evolved out of this encounter, and retained African rhythm structures and body movement in American and Caribbean diasporic spaces. Under transnational conditions, Afro-diasporic social dances such as Swing, Mambo, Salsa, and Zouk have been diffused through Europe, Asia and back to Africa. Indeed, from the 1920s onwards, people the world over, often disconnected from African cultures, have used dances marked by 'African' traces to fashion themselves as modern subjects. The project will examine these 'modern moves' and their transnational developments, to argue that Afro-diasporic rhythm cultures, as manifested in these transnationalised dances, are intrinsic to global modernity. An interdisciplinary research team, led by the coordinator, will study their kinetic dimension: how specific dance steps evolved in correspondence to musical styles; the sites for their enjoyment and proliferation; song lyrics as sites of memory; and the socio-historical conditions under which these dance styles are assimilated into competing rhythm cultures, from 'Bollywood' to the dance fitness craze 'Zumba'. Moving away from Postcolonial Studies' reliance on textuality to highlight bodily pleasure and spectacularity, we will investigate ‘AfroPolitanism’—the nourishing of these social dances in urban spaces-- and ask how and why Afro-diasporic rhythms connect ‘AfroPolitans’ from postcolonial worlds that speak different languages and have inherited divergent colonial histories. The category of 'kinetic transnationalism' will guide our analysis of modernity's moves, from intra-community preservation to transnational affiliations, while revealing the place of Africa and the 'AfroPolitan' in the history of modernity."

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