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Community Collection Grants: R&B Urban Line Dancing on “Of the People”

Woman with a video camera documenting a dance event.

Karen Abdul-Malik documenting a dance event. Photo courtesy of Driven by Design Creative Agency, LLC. Used by permission.

Below is an excerpt from a post on the Library’s Of the People blog highlighting artist, documentarian, and AFC Community Collections Grant recipient Karen Abdul-Malik, also known professionally as Queen Nur. It is part of an “Of the People blog” series featuring the 2022 awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. Abdul-Malik’s project focuses on cultural documentation of urban line dancing practices and gatherings associated with African American communities. The Community Collections Grants program is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story. For the blog post, I asked Queen Nur a few questions about her project. I’ll put the first question and answer here, but make sure you visit Of the People for the rest!

Urban line dance is not necessarily something familiar to all our readers. Could you describe the tradition a little for us?

The R&B or alternatively known as, Soul Line Dancing Community embodies a body of expressive creative culture associated with the African American Community.  It is an intangible art form that includes dance, music, language, dress, gatherings, and celebrations. In part, it was developed to create spaces for dance and socializing without the need of a partner and to dance to popular R&B music as a choreographed unit, with individualized styling.  It is a vital and constantly reinvigorated artistic tradition that is shaped by values and standards through demonstration, conversation, and practice.

Soul line dancing in the tri-state area (Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware) started getting popular roughly in the 1990’s, being in dance clubs around the area.  The music and/or artists used, included, but not limited to are:  The Temptations; Marvin Gaye, Barry White, Stevie Wonder and Prince to name a few.  Some of the basic dance steps that are still woven into current dances are the cha, cha,  salsa, and derivatives of swing such as Chicago stepping and the Philly Bop. Steps and call outs have become a part of the sub-culture language within the community.  Urban line dancing goes beyond the most universal dances such as those that are choreographed within popular songs like the Cha-Cha Slide, Cupid Shuffle or The Biker’s Shuffle.  Thousands of dances have been created to R&B, soul, smooth jazz, gospel, house, hip hop and other genres of urban music. The favorite dances are performed throughout the nation at dance classes and events. There are dances that become classified as “classics,” “from back in the day,” and those that may fade with time.  In the 21st century, the tradition continues to grow and develop at a rapid pace, through  live events and instruction on social media.  Due to the internet,  Soul Line dancing has crossed cultures and continents.

As an award winning storyteller and folklorist, how did you get involved in line dance?

Find out Queen Nur’s answer to this and several more questions about the tradition and why it’s important to document it, over at Of the People, Widening the Path.

A Seminar for Strathmore Artist in Residence Grad School

Thanks to an ongoing partnership between the American Folklife Center and the Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, Maryland, fourteen young musicians were treated to a multi-media feast of collection materials significant to jazz history from three different divisions in the Library of Congress during their in-person visit on Tuesday, November 15, 2022. Read all about it in Folklife Today!

A Quick Note of Thanks

Veterans Day season is understandably a traditionally busy time for the Veterans History Project (VHP) staff and supporters. With media interviews, performances, workshops, exhibits, veteran/Gold Star family member interview opportunities and ceremonies, this year was certainly no different.  As we bask in the afterglow of successfully sharing stories through multiple mediums, I would be remiss […]

Natalie Merchant, Martha González and Ricardo L. Punzalan Appointed to American Folklife Center’s Board of Trustees

The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress is pleased to announce the appointment of platinum-selling recording artist Natalie Merchant, musician and MacArthur Fellow Martha González, and community archiving scholar Ricardo L. Punzalan to the American Folklife Center Board of Trustees. We are also happy to report that legislative liaison Jean Dorton and theater professor John Patrick Rice have been reappointed to the board. Read more in this post at Folklife Today!

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity

As part of our collaboration on the Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, today is the premiere of the series’ final film, REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors through Community Food Equity, which you can watch in this blog post or on the Library’s YouTube channel. REPLENISH: Nourishing Neighbors brings viewers into the world of community food banks and food pantries, sharing the ways in which organizations, staff, and volunteers serve and strengthen their neighborhoods through food distribution and access to social services, such as housing support, job searches, health care, and more. This film also takes a deeper look at Middlesex County’s Share Your Foodways program, detailing its inception during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Folklorist John Vlach 1948-2022

The American Folklife Center is very sad to pass on news of the death of John Michael Vlach, an eminent folklorist who specialized in the study of folk art and vernacular architecture. Vlach was a longtime professor at George Washington University, where he served as director of the Folklife Program, chair of the American Studies Department, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of American Studies and Anthropology. At GWU he trained generations of folklore and folk art scholars, including members of the American Folklife Center staff. Other members of our staff filled in for Vlach, teaching courses at GWU while he was on leave. The American Folklife Center staff will miss John, and we send our condolences to his widow Beverly Brannan, their two daughters, his family, and his many friends and students. This blog post contains an obituary provided to AFC by Vlach’s family.

An Important Honor for Joy Harjo and “Living Nations, Living Words”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo continues to earn praise for her work in the position. On October 26th at its annual convention, the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries., and Museums (ATALM) presented one of its Guardians of Culture and Lifeways International Awards to the Library of Congress and Harjo for “Living Nations, Living Words,” her signature project as the nation’s first Native American poet laureate. Her project features a sampling of work by 47 Native American poets through an interactive Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection. Each location marker reveals a Native poet and features an image, biography and link to hear the poet recite and comment on an original poem. Read more about it in this blog post!

Website Redesign Makes VHP Easier Than Ever

How are you planning to commemorate this Veterans Day? There are many ways to show gratitude for the veterans in your life.  Can you guess the one I would suggest? Show appreciation to the veteran in your life by helping them collect and preserve their military memories so that they may be accessible through the […]

AFC’s Homegrown Foodways Film Premiere: Multigenerational Ukrainian Foodways with Roman Kovbasniuk

As part of the AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in Central New Jersey film series, this blog premieres the film “Multigenerational Ukrainian Foodways with Roman Kovbasniuk,” which honors New Jersey’s vibrant Ukrainian communities and their rich foodways traditions. Watch it in this blog post, or on the Library’s YouTube channel!

Live! At the Library: Honor Veterans’ Stories with Modern Warrior Live

The following is a guest blog post by liaison specialist Owen Rogers. On November 10, 2022, the eve of Veterans Day, join the Library of Congress Veterans History Project for a performance of Modern Warrior Live, a powerful jazz and spoken word performance chronicling the journey from combat to catharsis. The Cleveland-based organization is a […]