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pulp fiction

 

Once, to make up for a childhood deprived of the dance lessons, I enrolled myself in the nearest dance studio at age twenty-two. There I was, mastering heel digs and jazz hands with a dozen eleven-year-olds, living the dream. Mind you, I was 5’10 and all limbs, and when I wasn’t triggering a little-kid pile up I was working with the instructor on arm positioning to affect grace instead of sailor knots. It was a short-lived venture, but now I’m thinking I went about it the wrong way. Maybe all I needed were a few cinematic examples. So to usher in 2013 with the right moves, I’ve rounded up some of cinema’s most badass dance scenes in one handy playlist. Just to make things interesting, my rules were: no musicals (like Singing in the Rain) and no movies about dancing (like Footloose). And away we go:

“We, too, have run about the slopes and we’ve ran into the night.  We’ve wandered far beneath the stars since auld lange syne.”

– Benji Schneider, Lord Huron, “Auld Lang Syne”

 

There’s a Fleet Foxes song that starts, “Now that I’m older, than my mother and father when they had their daughter, what does that say about me?”  It catches me off guard every time it shuffles up on my iPod.  I’m a year older than my mother was when I was born.  My parents married after college.  They saved for a brick house where they planted a pear tree and a vegetable garden.  There’s a photo of us, taken shortly after Mom’s twenty-sixth birthday: Mom, Dad, and me sitting in a pile of leaves.  I’m propped between them with a white lace bonnet tied beneath my chin.  We look like a postcard family: haloed by late autumn sun and framed by leaves.  Within months of that photograph, I learned to loosen my bonnet.  I’d fling it from my head, shouting “No bonnet” with a gummy smile.  I wiggled away from the postcard image.  But my parents remain tied together.  Mom and Dad still rake leaves in the early fall, wearing faded sweatshirts and soft jeans.  By their mid-twenties my parents saw the shape their life would take.

jake shears

The Scissor Sisters couldn’t have picked a more appropriate time to sashay onto the scene. It was 2004, and the country was experiencing fits of crazy homophobia thanks to the gay marriage debate and Republicans like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (who was gay, unbeknownst to himself at the time, uh-huh) and Karl Rove, who ushered their candidate, George W. Bush, into the White House for another four years in part by putting gay marriage on the ballot in 11 states and allowing those citizens to vote their dumb prejudices and then pull the lever for Dubya for good measure.

Tonight, the chhau dancer has a moon on his back,
and he clasps each of its crescent wingtips
above his head like an angel holding its horns.

When I said that I have looked for you in the bodies
of others, this is what I meant: these martial stances,
these masks, the way his shoulderblades convulse

in tandem with a shuddering drum, the way he raises
a foot to the level of the eye. Some of us are forged
salamandrine, enduring the universe with no more

than the will to be reborn. Others must wear falconry
hoods, and sometimes, when even I can no longer bear
to see, I think of you, once, your head in your hands

in a gesture of mourning, that night at the beginning of
the year of broken idols when a beautiful costumed
man ripped his chest open and showed you that secret

theatre, that solitaire, the hooked bijou of my heart.
Since then, the cosmos has been without choreography.
The seraph on stage unsheathes his trident. I wrap myself

in a serape of sadness and wonder how many dancers I
have watched on how many nights since; how many
I have torn my gaze from to beseech the sky,
as though the night numbered among
its many stars    the zodiac of your eyes.

I recently got the chance to catch up with Thaddeus Russell, this year’s most talked about historian. Russell’s new book, A Renegade History of the United States, offers a view of the American past with an entirely new set of characters. Those names and events that have been kept out of school textbooks for too long are examined as America’s real history. Critics are comparing it to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States –- a thrilling, controversial read with the potential to change the way we view history.

 

David S. Wills: A Renegade History of the United States seems to have generated quite a lot of interest already, with glowing reviews. Why are so many of them are using words like “controversial”?

Thaddeus Russell: The book is controversial for a number of reasons. First, it argues that the lowest, most “degenerate” inhabitants of American society actually produced many of the freedoms and pleasures that most of us now cherish. My chapters on slavery and race have been especially controversial (see below). The book also shows that the enemies of what I call “renegade freedoms” included not only the usual suspects — conservative politicians and business leaders — but also many of the heroes of the left-liberal history that is now dominant: abolitionists, feminists, civil rights leaders, progressive activists, and gay rights leaders. My chapter on the civil rights movement shows that Martin Luther King and other leaders of the movement led the call for African Americans to “reform” themselves, assimilate into white culture, and live up to deeply conservative “family values.” It has already caused quite a stir in academic circles, and led several prominent professors at Columbia to call for my firing from Barnard College, where the ideas for the book were developed. I was in fact let go from Barnard because of my ideas — but that also led me to consider writing A Renegade History, so it might have been a blessing in disguise.

 

Fifty years ago
television viewers
were allowed only
Elvis Presley’s face
his hips
thrusting
the music of Black People

Today, at the
Young Men’s Christian Association
Women in lines
wearing tight clothing

stood, gyrating
all their

hips, thighs,
buttocks, breasts,
sphincter muscles kegels
and labia minora

in rhythm
to music made by
Actual Black People