Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Fried, Died, and Laid To The Side

No, that's not what they did to the corpse.  The title of this entry comes from a catchphrase used back in the 70s and 80s, regarding African-American hairstyling techniques.  You can already guess, cant' you? 

This week's Dance Party could only come from one source, considering the outpouring of emotion regarding this week's Most Prominent Death.

Don Cornelius


He was a radio personality and news reporter in Chicago when he created a daily dance program, along the lines of the lily-white American BandstandSoul Train soon graduated to national syndication (where it's said it holds the record for longevity), and afforded white America the opportunity to see musical acts of color. 

Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and countless others became nationally recognized partially on the strength of their appearances on the show.  Soul Train is now considered an innovator of TV programming, featuring a largely African-American cast of studio dancers, at a time when people of color were often missing from the television landscape.  The apparent suicide of creator and long-time host Don Cornelius this week has caused the social media to explode with remembrances and gratitudes.  African-Americans, particularly those growing up in the 1970s, never missed an episode of Soul Train, where they could see people of their own color, dancing to music which they considered, culturally, their own. 
Us white folks watched, too, mesmerized by the freedom with which the dancers let loose, and we copied their fashion sense (though that was sometimes regrettable):

How was this guy
always single?
Oh, those outfits!  This week's Dance Party displays the urban fashions of the time in all their outlandish glory. 

One of the signature segments of Soul Train was the weekly Line Dance, and YouTube has dozens of those clips.  This one is a good example;  as you take note of the fashions, also note the somewhat subdued dancing styles.  Cornelius had middle-of-the-road tastes, so even as the kids get their groove on, the moves are not nearly as suggestive as they were in the clubs at the time.  Don was straddling a fine line: he wanted to allow people of color to represent themselves authentically, but he also wanted his show to appeal to the white population.

It was Don's discomfort with rap and hip-hop which caused him to yield up his hosting duties in 1993, though he remained the creative force behind the scenes for the full 35 years of Soul Train's run.