Sherrie Tucker, Associate Professor in American Studies at University of Kansas
Dance Floor Democracy: The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen
Cosponsored by Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies Programs. Reception to Follow.
This paper is based on my current book project that takes the Hollywood Canteen as a lens for studying swing culture as war memory for people in the U.S--or how a particular form of national memory of and about the U.S. during World War II is stimulated by big band music and jitterbug. Based on interviews with former social dancers about their visits to the Hollywood Canteen, the famous dance floor where civilian film industry workers jitterbugged with military personnel during World War II, my discussion explores the social geography of Los Angeles of the 1940s alongside the social geography of national memory in the times in which the interviews took place (2000–06).
Like much of the World War II nostalgia that continues to effectively mobilize Americans in support of the nation-at-war, the “official memory” of the Hollywood Canteen synchronizes notions of national innocence, egalitarianism, and US international benevolence with the sounds of big band swing. Interestingly—in light of the segregation of the Armed Forces, USO, and Red Cross plasma distribution—the racially integrated dance floor of the Hollywood Canteen has often been celebrated as epitomizing its democratic vision. Yet, in interviews, people who danced on that supposedly integrated dance floor (or who tried to) recall and narrate radically different social geographies. Rather than taking these conflicting dance floor memories as true or false, my project draws from a concept that I call the “social geography of memory.” I am less interested in trying to reconstruct “what really happened,” than I am in seeking to understand what we can learn about post-war notions of U.S. democracy from spatial arrangements that interviewees envisioned, and chose to narrate to me, when asked to remember “what happened” on the dance floor sixty years after World War II.
Sherrie Tucker (PhD History of Consciousness, UC Santa Cruz 1999, MA Women’s Studies, San Francisco State University 1994) is Associate Professor in American Studies at University of Kansas. She is the author of Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s (Duke, 2000) and co-editor, with Nichole T. Rustin, of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies (Duke, 2008). She is currently completing a book entitled Dance Floor Democracy: the Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen. Her articles on jazz and gender have appeared in journals, including American Music, Black Music Research Journal, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Current Musicology, Jazz Perspectives, and Women and Music: a Journal of Gender and Culture, and edited volumes, including Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby (eds), African American Music: A History (Routledge, 2006); Ajay Heble and Daniel Fischlin (eds), The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue (Wesleyan, 2004); Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell (eds), Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity (University of Illinois, 2002); and Vicki L. Ruiz and Ellen Carol DuBois (eds), Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women’s History (Routledge, 2000). She is a member of the “Improvisation, Gender, and the Body” team for Ajay Heble’s Collaborative Research Initiative funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, entitled, “Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice.” She is co-editor of the journal American Studies, with David Katzman and Randal M. Jelks. She was the 2004-2005 Louis Armstrong Professor at the Center for Jazz Studies, Columbia University.