Blackface Minstrel Tradition

or "Black Caricatures in Traditional Dances"

I ran across a traditional dance named “Old Zip Coon”. Both the dance title and its traditional music  “Turkey in the Straw” are offensively racist and should be eliminated from programs.

I heard a podcast analyzing the racism in Disney’s Song of the South. Whites created blackface and black minstrel shows for white audiences, appropriating black music and dance and creating horrible caricatures that even had names: Jim Crow and Zip Coon. The latter was a lazy, do-nothing man with pretentions of high style. He also pandered to whites in order to be liked. This title needs to be erased when used in dance programs.

The traditional tune for this 1800s dance is Turkey In The Straw. Blackface minstrel shows also made frequent use of that tune and variations of it. We should bury that tune for a hundred years until it’s permanently disassociated from its history.

The dance figures are pleasant enough.

  1. Couple 1 down the outside and up the center while couple 2 goes down the center and up the outside.
  2. Couple 1 down the center and up the outside while couple 2 goes down the outside and up the center.
  3. Couples 1 and 2 down the center with 2s in the lead. Turn alone. Return.
  4. Couple 1 cast unassisted around couple 2.
  5. Couples 1 and 2 do rights and lefts, over and back.


Another way to think of this, in modern choreography is:

A1/ Lines of four down the hall (2s in the middle). Turn as couples and come back up. 

A2/ Turn alone, (1s in middle) and again lines of four down the hall. Turn as couples and come back up.

B1/ Bend the line. 2 x 2 down the hall with 2s in front. Turn alone and return. 1s cast around to second place, 2s move up.

B2/ Right and Left through, over and back.

References:

  • “You Must Remember This” podcast by Karina Longworth, episode 148 “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, Minstrels in Hollywood and The Oscars (Six Degrees of Song of the South, Episode 3)”. The specific first mention of the character name occurs about 14 minutes in. [🔊Listen]