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

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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.

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