“You Can’t Dance to It”: Jazz Music and Its Choreographies of Listening

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1 Scopus citations


Central to dominant jazz history narratives is a midcentury rupture where jazz transitions from popular dance music to art music. Fundamental to this trope is the idea that faster tempos and complex melodies made the music hostile to dancing bodies. However, this constructed moment of rupture masks a longer, messier process of negotiation among musicians, audiences, and institutions that restructured listening behavior within jazz spaces. Drawing from the field of dance studies, I offer the concept of “choreographies of listening” to interrogate jazz’s range of socially enforced movement “scores” for audience listening practices and their ideological significance. I illustrate this concept through two case studies: hybridized dance/concert performances in the late 1930s and “off-time” bebop social dancing in the 1940s and 1950s. These case studies demonstrate that both seated and dancing listening were rhetorically significant modes of engagement with jazz music and each expressed agency within an emergent Afromodernist sensibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-51
Number of pages16
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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