Designed for Dancing: How Midcentury Records Taught America To Dance

MIT. Oct. 2021. 552p. ISBN 9780262044332. $39.95. DANCE/GRAPHIC ARTS
It’s often said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture; the same holds true for writing about the cover art of dance-focused albums, which is part of what makes this new graphic arts volume so interesting. The record covers explored here often say less about the music within than about the social and cultural settings of their creators and audiences. Borgerson (business and cultural studies, DePaul Univ.) and Schroeder (visual communication, Rochester Inst. of Technology), who together wrote Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America, tread lightly over some of the resulting implications, though they do remark on the Orientalism of belly dance record covers and the rarity of depictions of interracial social dancing on any record covers at all. Perhaps the authors’ extensive commentary—on the suburbanization of the United States, racial segregation, and the exoticization of cultures from Egypt to Hawai’i—is too much for a book like this to bear and still retain its focus on visual depictions of popular dance in mid-20th-century America. If many of those visual depictions are complicated by questions of appropriation, assimilation, and representation, that only supports the authors’ contention that the record cover ought to be taken seriously as an artistic medium. The thematic orientation of the chapters resists chronology, but nonetheless one detects a through line from formal partner dancing to the shimmies and shakes of rock and roll and disco.
VERDICT An intriguing look at social dance culture through a material lens. For scholars and aficionados of mid-20th-century popular culture.
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