“If You Lean on the Wall, It’s Wet:’ Sweat, Dance, and Place in 1970s New Orleans”

Authors: Rachel Carrico*, University of Florida
Topics: Cultural Geography, Black Geographies, Urban Geography
Keywords: Black geographies, dance, New Orleans
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 22
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In the late-1970s, African American New Orleanians gathered in neighborhood
barrooms to dance the second line, a social form that dates to the late-19th century.
However, in the 70s, second liners invented flashier movements in response to funk inspired
brass band sounds. When dancers reminisce about this period, they
emphasize sweat coating bodies and walls. Don Robertson remembers a popular club
called the Glass House: “It was crowded, hot. […] You wet, the people around you wet,
even the guys who playing the horns: dripping wet. […] If you lean on the wall, it’s wet”
(Interview with the author, Dec. 9 2015).
Sweat may be an inevitable fact of dancing vigorously in a hot, humid city, but in this
paper, I take sweat seriously. Drawing upon oral histories and archival footage, I
consider the relationship between sweat, dance, labor, and ownership of place in 1970s
New Orleans. Dancers like Robertson were coating the walls of the Glass House at a
time when, right outside the club’s doors, New Orleans’s white elites were erecting a
“massive resistance in concrete” to legislative gains in racial equality (Woods,
Development Drowned, 202). I argue that the symbolic and material potency of sweat—
and its attendant funk— manifest black social dancers’ capacity to challenge the
political and economic backlash that followed the legislative victories of the 1960s civil
rights movement.

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