Diocese of Manchester

    Jumpin’ Jive and Swing Time – my appreciation of Black History Month

    The Archdeacon of Manchester, Karen Lund, pays homage to some black artists from recent history who have had an impact on her.

    It begins in a place called Staxton-Willerby where we spent a week on holiday this summer.

    I begin my holiday reading a new novel by Zadie Smith called Swing Time. Swing Time is about relationships strained and celebratory relationships with parents, friends, employers and self. It is also about dance, movement and style.

    Zadie speaks into my culture, an eclectic culture that is the black British experience. She understands what I understand, and she articulates the idiosyncrasies that are familiar idiosyncrasies for me. Also, she has had lunch with one of my other black heroes, Barack Obama. He is on my dinner guest list. So I’m dead jealous!

    So my first homage in this thirtieth anniversary year of Black History Month is to Zadie Smith. Although I have only read one of her other books, I find that my celebration of her can arise out of a moment, in the same way that we experience a moment with God when we are brought into the living, current experience of knowing what it is to be Christ-filled. That is something awesome and something to celebrate.

    The most exciting discovery of black history in the novel for me was the Nicholas Brothers, a dancing duo. If you had tested me on famous tap dancers, they would not have made my list, because they are generally not very well known.

    Fayard and Harold Nicholas performed a highly acrobatic technique known as ‘flash dancing’. With a high level of artistry and daring innovations, they were considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day in the 1930s and 40s. Their performance in the musical number ‘Jumpin’ Jive’ that featured in the movie Stormy Weather is considered by many to be the most virtuosic dance display of all time.

    If I were going to have my own black history exhibition, Zadie Smith and the Nicholas Brothers would get my vote!

    Thank you Zadie for creating a lovely story for me during my summer holiday. Thank you Nicholas Brothers for the energetic and talented gift and legacy to us [thank goodness for YouTube]. And finally thank you Staxton-Willerby for providing the location for my reflections for Black History Month.

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