Adrian Piper’s funk lessons

Consider the history and style of funk dancing, as a form of expression in urban black America, and then as a popular American dance form. Consider how this form has disappeared, in a sense, from our everyday physical vernacular. How are popular dances, ways of moving and self expression, archival practices?

Notes on Funk I (excerpt)
by Adrian Piper

From 1982 to 1984, I staged collaborative performances with large or small groups of people, entitled Funk Lessons. The first word in the title refers to a certain branch of black popular music and dance known as “funk” (in contrast, for example, to “punk,” “rap,” or “rock”). Its recent ancestor is called “rhythm and blues” or “soul,” and it has been developing as a distinctive cultural idiom within black culture since the early 1970s. Funk constitutes a language of interpersonal communication and collective self-expression that has its origins in African tribal music and dance and is the result of the increasing interest of contemporary black musicians and the populace in those sources elicited by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and early 1970s (African tribal drumming by slaves was banned in the United States during the nineteenth century, so it makes sense to describe this increasing interest as a “rediscovery”).

This medium of expression has been largely inaccessible to white culture, in part because of the different roles of social dance in white as opposed to black culture. For example, whereas social dance in white culture is often viewed in terms of achievement, social grace or competence, or spectator-oriented entertainment, it is a collective and participatory means of self-transcendence and social union in black culture along many dimensions, and is so often much more fully integrated into daily life. Thus it is based on a system of symbols, cultural meanings, attitudes and patterns of movement that one must directly experience in order to understand fully. This is particularly true in funk, where the concern is not how spectacular anyone looks but rather how completely everyone participates in a collectively shared , enjoyable experience.

My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance (preferably with sixty people or more) was to enable everyone present to


The full Funk Lessons video is now available online!

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