Friday, February 1, 2013

~Series 1:19th Century "Dancing For Eels",U Can't Touch This~

Well,let's get this party started!Folks it's that time of the year again.I bring you ~Enlightenment ~ of various aspects of African-Americans...yes it's Black History Month. AND_there's a couple of other important dates to remember in in something for your Sweetie on the 14th!I've listed a few reminders in the right column under ~Mental-Locity~!

                           Series 1:Dancing with Eels

Few people here in Texas,I'd imagine have had any experiences with eels.I got tricked into eating eel while in training to be a Sales Rep.for Squibb Derm(1988).We were staying at the Lambertville Inn in N.J. & Dining at the Lambertville Station next door on the Delaware River. I was NOT pleased about the surprise food_thought I was eating just regular old fried fish_I'm a Southern girl.

To be sure,the eel is a long,thin bony fish.There's European and American types_this is an American eel_

Most eels live in the shallow waters of the ocean and burrow into sand, mud, or amongst rocks. A majority of eel species are nocturnal, and thus are rarely seen. Sometimes, they are seen living together in holes, or "eel pits". Some species of eels also live in deeper water on the continental shelves and over the slopes deep as 4,000 m (13,000 ft). Only members of the Anguillidae family regularly inhabit fresh water, but they too return to the sea to breed.

Distribution and size of  larvae of the American eel, Anguilla rostrata

The elongated Eel can vary in lengths from 5 cm (2.0 in) in the one-jawed eel to 4 m (13 ft.)in the slender giant morays. Eel blood is toxic to humans and other mammals_but both cooking and the digestive process destroy the toxic protein.Eels have been used for centuries as cuisine in Japan,China,Spain,N.Germany,the Netherlands,Denmark,Sweden,New Zealand,USA,etc..

Smoked Eel is considered a delicacy.Eel skin leather is highly prized.It is very smooth and exceptionally strong. However, it does not come from eels. It comes from the Pacific hagfish.a jawless fish which is also known as the slime eel.

                                                                Eel Dinner

Now,the only thing I can think of that's comparable to these fellas is the lowly catfish_in the swampy moss filled watering holds of East Texas where I grew up.BTW,I don't eat catfish_they are bottom feeders!Nope,I don't eat them.


So what does this have to do with "Black History Month"?

While enjoying one of my favorite Saturday programs on PBS_Antiques Roadshow_a woman named Carole presented a Folk Art painting called "Dancing For Eels"(c.1885) for appraisal.The Appraiser(Nancy Druckman) was overjoyed to see it! I've attended two of those shows(Boston & Dallas) with my zillion $$ prizes(not)_so, I sat up erect...because I just knew this was going to be a good one.Seems Carole found the painting lying neglected among some decrepit old frames on the floor of an antique store in Washington,D.C.

                                  "Dancing For Eels"

The Appraiser had seen another version of this painting.

1848 lithograph version of the Dancing for Eels composition, by E. & J. Brown. (Image Source: WGBH Media Library.)

Carole's painting in August 2010 at the Antiques Roadshow, estimated auction value _$6,000 to $9,000!She purchased it for  around $85. 

This version of Dancing for Eels,seems to have been a folk drawing from the 1820s that depicted two African American men dancing at New York City's Catharine Fish Market, a crossroads and meeting place for African Americans in the region. At the time, slavery was being abolished across the northern states, but it was a gradual process. New Jersey had enacted a law in 1804 that freed all African Americans born subsequent to passage; but as late as 1860, the state would still be home to a number of slaves. New York, on the other hand, abolished slavery entirely in 1827. Dancing for Eels shows the three communities of slaves, freedmen, and whites coming into contact as their places in society are beginning to change.

After traveling into the city from farms in New Jersey, says Druckman, slaves would sell their produce at the Bear Market and meet up with free New Yorkers to socialize and gamble. Afterward, the slaves and freedmen would head over to the nearby Catharine Fish Market to dance and play music for whites in exchange for fresh fish or eels. The sight of men dancing for eels at Catharine Market became familiar enough to New Yorkers that, over the course of the 19th century, it served as source material for a number of lithographs and political cartoons.

The lines gives you a sense of the energy and the rhythm of the dancers...a visual-acoustical kind of combination. If the Artist had been trained, the planking would have just looked like planking. The extra surge of sound would be lost. That's exactly the kind of thing that makes folk art so interesting _ the ability to use visual elements in an unrestricted way

The racial content is a little more difficult.When Carole first saw the painting in the antiques store, she  was attracted to its color palette, na├»ve joyfulness and obvious age. But beneath the scene of black men smiling and dancing for food were undercurrents that caused her to hesitate."I don't collect that kind of thing," she says. But the men in the painting, I realized, are not in blackface; they're just black men who've been given the simple treatment of folk art — though there was something reminiscent of blackface.Carole read some background information.Thus,she didn't see it with the same degree of negativity as when she picked it up off the floor.
The men in the painting are certainly dancing for food, but they also seem to be dancing for pleasure. There is no sense of the men being forced to dance, and the only whites in the painting are well in the background. As she looked more deeply into the history of the painting, Carole learned that Catharine Market was a place where black and white culture mingled, perhaps not as freely as they do today, but not necessarily under a pall of racism. As slaves and freedmen danced for eels, they were keeping alive a culture of movement and dance that would survive slavery, adaptation,and assimilation by minstrels into blackface, and the Jim Crow regime, finally to be incorporated into the dance culture of the most globally successful form of pop music of the last few decades, rap and hip-hop.

 Dancing for Eels allows us to use a magnifying glass,enlarging the intricate weaving of African American culture into a country that was just beginning to view blacks as fully human. The painting will always be looked upon as controversial. Some would say the men are simply_Dancing!


Pretty interesting think?

Modern rap and hip-hop performance also contain traces of  Dancing for Eels style_ from the New York street dancers,Atlanta Hip Hop,etc..A great example can be observed in MC Hammer using the Market Step in his video U Can't Touch This_ knees open, heel-to-toe rock, often accompanied by one or both hands overhead. This move traces back to "Dancing for Eels 1820 Catherine Market",  which can be seen in the folk drawings depicting this old competition style of Dancing for FOOD!

         I Feel like Dancing~
                         Can't Touch That!!!!!!!!!

No comments: