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Dancing as a means of artistic expression is a rather complex phenomenon. On the one hand, it incorporates the elements of a universal language that is expected to be understood by any member of the audience. On the other hand, the semantic nature of dancing is linked directly to the specifics of the culture that produced it. Given the vast number of influences that a dance may experience throughout its evolution as an art form, determining its actual cultural roots often becomes virtually impossible. However, the Irish tap dancing technique has a rather clear and direct ancestor, which is the African American dance.
Because of the negative effects of cultural appropriation and the continuous influences of other cultures, the African American dance has been affected by the borrowings of its key techniques by the Irish culture.
“Velocity” and the Irish Tap Dance
“Velocity” is a band that performs Irish tap dancing. Their shows can be regarded as the quintessential Irish dancing routine (“The New Victory Theater Presents VELOCITY” 1). After participating in Britain’s Got Talent show, the band gained the publicity that it needed to start performing on the national stage and experimenting with its style in an endeavor at cementing its identity. However, after tracking down the influences that made the participants create the band in the first place, one will recognize the elements of the African American dance as one of the key constituents of the band’s current defining style (Library of Congress par. 2).
The observed phenomenon can be seen as the direct example of the Irish culture, to which the band members belong, borrowing from the African American dance in an attempt at creating a unique style.
The case of “Velocity” exemplifies the side effects of cultural fusion that can be observed in the modern environment, namely the consumption of the elements of specific ethnicities by the dominant ones. While the Irish culture also has experienced difficulties in its attempts at fighting for democracy and freedom, its attempt at appropriating the elements of the African American culture, particularly, the phenomenon of tap dancing, needs to be recognized as the process that devours specific pieces of the African American identity. The band admittedly focuses on promoting a multicultural brand of its identity, inviting its audiences to “the multicultural city it calls home” (“The New Victory Theater Presents VELOCITY” 2).
Irish Tap Dancing Overshadowing the African American Dance
A closer look at how “Velocity” presents the Irish tap dancing will indicate that the band is unwilling to indicate the elements of the African American culture from which it borrows and by which it is inspired. For instance, the playbill issued by the band does not even refer to the cultural origins of the current technology that the band uses. As a result, the African American culture, in general, and its dancing aspect, in particular, are overpowered by the Irish one, with the current emphasis on tap dancing as the phenomenon that is intrinsically characteristic of the Irish cultural legacy (Hill 4).
Therefore, there is an urgent need for the representation of the African American culture as the originator of the current trend and the phenomenon to which one should give credit when it comes to the discussion of the Irish tap dancing evolution.
Indeed, by scrutinizing the history of tap dancing as a phenomenon in-depth, one will realize that the specified concept is rooted deeply into the African American culture. Particularly, the fact that the original tap dance was created as the language emerging from the oppression needs to be addressed. The Irish culture appropriated the specified language without taking its context into account.
Furthermore, the history of the tap-dancing culture shows that the dance itself has been plagiarized numerous times and appropriated by a vast range of people. For instance, Seibert insists that the code of the African American dancing routine has specific policies: “That code had rules. You could mimic somebody’ else’s moves, among other dancers, as a tribute, a witty allusion, or a jibe. But doing it in public, for play – that was theft” (Seibert 626). Therefore, the problem of borrowing from the African American culture of tap dancing does not exist in a vacuum and needs to be addressed as a historical injustice.
Copyright, the African American Dancing, and the Irish Tap Dance
The problem of copyright as the issue that has been bypassed by numerous people is especially explicit in the case of Irish tap dancing as the phenomenon that has been borrowed directly from the African American culture. There is ample evidence concerning the nature of both styles, which indicates that the African American dance is the exact predecessor of the Irish tap dancing technique. Kraut mentions that the dimensions of choreographic copyright are convoluted and often misinterpreted, thus causing unwarranted copying and borrowings from one culture to another (Kraut 2).
The specified explanation can be applied to the case of the African American dance culture and the Irish tap dancing technique. To support the legacy of the African American dance, one needs to acknowledge the line of borrowings that have led to the creation of the contemporary Irish tap dancing technique.
Indeed, despite the flimsy nature of the copyright law in dancing, the fact that the Irish tap dancing approach has been borrowed from the African American culture without direct permission is evident. To reconcile the opponents of the specified conflict, one will need to recognize the presence of the elements of the African American culture in the modern Irish tap dancing, thus acknowledging the illegal borrowing of the African American tradition and style.
By culturally appropriating the elements of the American dance, the Irish tap dancing technique has affected the African American culture significantly, as the example of “Velocity” shows. While the concept of the cultural fusion, which the current approach used by “Velocity” demonstrates, can be seen as neutral, the overall outcomes of the specified phenomenon can be regarded as rather negative. By appropriating the elements of the African American culture, the Irish tap dancing technique leads to mindless consumption of the product without elaborating on the ideas that influenced and inspired it.
However, it could be argued that the observed tendency to cultural fusion can also be interpreted as positive. By integrating the elements of the African American culture into the context of the Irish cultural environment, one enhances the process of cultural exchange. As a result, the changes that the tap-dancing technique is currently undergoing can be seen as natural and crucial to the progress of the phenomenon.
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Nevertheless, it is critical to recognize the forces that affect the cultural changes as having a social connotation. Therefore, the process of integrating the Irish concept of tap dancing and the phenomenon of the African American dance should be seen as the change that inevitably leads to the erasure of the African American artistic identity. Therefore, creating the environment in which the specified identity could be preserved needs to be viewed as a priority.
Hill, Constance Valis. Tap Dancing America: A Cultural History. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Kraut, Anthea. Choreographing Copyright: Race, Gender, and Intellectual Property Rights in American Dance. Oxford University Press, 2015.
Library of Congress. “Tap Dance in America: A Short History.” LOC.gov. Web.
“The New Victory Theater Presents VELOCITY.” NewVictory.org. 2018. Web.
Seibert, Brain. What the Eye Hears. A History of Tap Dancing. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.