Identity Politics and Political Will: Jeni LeGon Living in a Great Big Way
This article is forthcoming.
Though there are many lenses by which one may investigate tap dance legend Jeni LeGon as a subject matter, in this essay I argue that the politics around her dancing are as important as the aesthetics of her dancing. In fact, they cannot be separated. Pushing the dialectical concern of dance and politics to include identity politics and political will afford us not only a distillation of the significance of LeGon’s work but also a reconsideration of the uses and abuses of the “political.” As I demonstrate, although LeGon’s story is not necessarily a microcosm of the state of race relations in the twentieth century, delving deeper into the specifics of her experiences lends insight into the larger workings of US personal politics and political will. The raced and gendered conditions under which LeGon performed are not mere anecdotal accounts of personal victories, affronts and challenges. I show that LeGon’s quiet candor regarding her triumphs and injustices was not only strategic and self-preserving but also ontologically constituative. In other words, it is important to understand LeGon’s way of publicly “being” in her circumstances, and not just her approaches for responding to her circumstances. I argue that by attending to the politics of LeGon’s dance in her early career, we come to further understand a raced and gendered ontological will that demonstrates a particular kind of control and subjectivity. In this essay, I make larger claims about not only the historical significance of LeGon’s work but also the implications for the theoretical and embodied dimensions of the political. Ultimately, I argue that there exists a “black will” that allows performers like LeGon to excel despite complex racialized politics.