Awfully long for all but the most committed tap fanatics, but an intelligent, thoughtful assessment worth dipping into by...



New York Times dance critic Seibert debuts with an exhaustive account of tap, from its roots in African dance to its multicultural apotheosis.

In early chapters, the author delves into the transfer of rhythm from drums, forbidden as possible instruments of rebellious slave communications, to slapping feet, making the point that sound and rhythm were the essence of this African-American art form. Casual readers may weary in the long introductory section about minstrelsy, but it’s here that Seibert cogently lays out his central themes of assimilation and appropriation, asking as he surveys pioneers like Master Juba how much they catered to white folks, how much instructed them. As tap moved onto Broadway and into the movies, the vexed question for artists was how much pandering was required to gain commercial acceptance. The author appreciates the contributions made by Irish traditions and white innovators like Fred Astaire, who brought black tap with his distinctive adaptations to a mainstream audience. But he reminds us of the many brilliant tappers like the Nicholas Brothers and John Bubbles, sidelined into specialty numbers while commendable but less-extraordinary talents like Eleanor Powell and Ann Miller became stars. The African-American tradition, kept alive at places like the Hoofers’ Club in Harlem and through the devoted efforts of white women like Brenda Bufalino, finally got its due in the tap revival of the 1990s, when youthful veteran Gregory Hines made the old ways new again. In 1995, Savion Glover took tap in a whole new direction with the angry, rap-inflected Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk. The text comes close to turning into a parade of names, but Seibert’s point of view and analytic skills are evident throughout. He acknowledges Glover’s genius, for example, while taking to task his purist posturing and celebrating tap as a typically multicultural American art form, born from black culture but amended and extended by all who loved it.

Awfully long for all but the most committed tap fanatics, but an intelligent, thoughtful assessment worth dipping into by anyone interested in American culture.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-86547-953-1

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2015

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.


Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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