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Collective Choreography for Weathering Black Experience: Janelle Monáe and The Memphis “Tightrope” Dance

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To help with “reading” Monáe’s lesson alongside hearing and/or watching, I transcribed the radio segment into a text. Through this transcription, I treat Monáe’s explanation as a form of dance notation.

“Make sure you have two legs or two feet, or use whatever you can.”

At first Monáe comes off as a bit ableist, saying that participants should have two legs and/or two feet. However, she concludes the same line suggesting moving any body part within personal limits. Her first instruction and tool somewhat reflect a common assumption in the dance world of an able, physical body, yet she emphasizes right from the beginning that anyone is capable as long as they move what they have and use creativity, imagination, and/or personality. A similar approach valuing flexibility is apparent within yanvalou—an embodiment praxis of Haitian Vodou[9]—as Elizabeth Chin reports of Katherine Dunham’s research: “Under life’s often harsh demands…it is better to take on the present situation than to wait until the ‘proper’ tools are at hand.”[10] Monáe prepares her listeners to follow along but also to re-imagine the Tightrope dance for themselves.

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