Dance Floor Democracy

The Social Geography of Memory at the Hollywood Canteen

Dance Floor Democracy

Book Pages: 408 Illustrations: 36 illustrations Published: October 2014

Author: Sherrie Tucker

American Studies, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

Open from 1942 until 1945, the Hollywood Canteen was the most famous of the patriotic home front nightclubs where civilian hostesses jitterbugged with enlisted men of the Allied Nations. Since the opening night, when the crowds were so thick that Bette Davis had to enter through the bathroom window to give her welcome speech, the storied dance floor where movie stars danced with soldiers has been the subject of much U.S. nostalgia about the "Greatest Generation." Drawing from oral histories with civilian volunteers and military guests who danced at the wartime nightclub, Sherrie Tucker explores how jitterbugging swing culture has come to represent the war in U.S. national memory. Yet her interviewees' varied experiences and recollections belie the possibility of any singular historical narrative. Some recall racism, sexism, and inequality on the nightclub's dance floor and in Los Angeles neighborhoods, dynamics at odds with the U.S. democratic, egalitarian ideals associated with the Hollywood Canteen and the "Good War" in popular culture narratives. For Tucker, swing dancing's torque—bodies sharing weight, velocity, and turning power without guaranteed outcomes—is an apt metaphor for the jostling narratives, different perspectives, unsteady memories, and quotidian acts that comprise social history.


Dance Floor Democracy is a model for what we might call embodied social and cultural history: works that takes the body (including that of the researcher herself) as a site of knowledge. … Dance Floor Democracy reveals scholarly practice as its own kind of dancing.” — Gayle Wald, Journal of Popular Music Studies

“[A]n absorbing journey that scholars in cultural history, the history of the body, and performance studies are sure to find of value.” — Kenneth Marcus, Southern California Quarterly

“With its beautiful and clear writing style, this book would be of interest to an audience of general readers, as well as to specialists in dance and jazz. Tucker’s research methodology in this book is applicable to a wide range of interdisciplinary fields, including jazz studies, American studies, African American studies, ethnomusicology, and anthropology.” — Yoko Suzuki, Women and Music

“More than just a straightforward history of the Canteen, Tucker’s smart and sophisticated analysis utilizes this unique wartime institution to understand the variety of ways in which WWII is remembered and memorialized in the present day. … Dance Floor Democracy makes for a thoughtful, eye-opening account of the complexities of the World War II generation, especially given Tucker’s masterful skills as an oral historian.” — Elizabeth R. Escobedo, Western Historical Quarterly

"This provocative and well-researched book addresses issues of history, the historical record, and national memory." — Abraham Hoffman, Journal of the West

"Tucker contributes here not only to the fields of history, jazz, and American studies but also to the burgeoning field of critical dance studies. Reckoning with dance, in Tucker’s work, is a way to think differently about politics."  — Danielle Goldman, Journal of American History

"Dance Floor Democracy is a valuable and exceptionally well-researched revisionist history of the Hollywood Canteen, critiquing not only the dominant paradigm of a friendly, democratic site, but also giving voice to the ‘others’ whose stories have been eclipsed by the feel-good memory of whom we wish we had been." — Rebecca A. Bryant, Ethnomusicology

"Sherrie Tucker has given us a meticulously researched and beautifully written evocation of the Hollywood Canteen. This original and highly creative work is a model of cultural history by a scholar of exemplary insight, intelligence, and sensitivity. Tucker brilliantly reads the dance floor to reveal meanings created, challenged, and negotiated by the dancers. Dance Floor Democracy insists upon a complex and multidimensional portrait of a period and a place too often viewed through the lens of nostalgia." — Farah Jasmine Griffin, author of Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II

"The publication of Dance Floor Democracy elevates cultural studies scholarship to new levels of sophistication and significance. Sherrie Tucker's impressive skills as an oral historian, musicologist, and gender studies specialist coupled with her focused attention on the particularities of place and time have enabled her to craft an exemplary book. A book that is at one and the same time, a social history of the U.S. home front during World War II, a magnificent demonstration of how commercial culture functions as a historical force, and a generative exploration into the tensions between appeals to hierarchy and appeals to equality that lie at the heart of U.S. political culture."
  — George Lipsitz, author of Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story


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Price: $29.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sherrie Tucker is Professor of American Studies at the University of Kansas. She is the author of Swing Shift: "All-Girl" Bands of the 1940s and coeditor of Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies, both also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Prologue. Dance Floor Democracy? xiii

Introduction. Writing on a Crowded Dance Floor 1

Part I. On Location: Situating the Hollywood Canteen (and Swing Culture as National Memory) in Wartime Los Angeles

1. Wrestling Hollywood to the Map 25

2. Cruising the Cahuenga Pass(t) 51

3. Operating from the Curbstone 76

Part II. Patriotic Jitterbugs: Tracing the Footsteps of the Soldier-Hostess Dyad

4. Dyad Democracy 107

5. Injured Parties 146

6. Torquing Back 179

Part III. Women in Uniforms, Men in Aprons: Dancing outside the Soldier-Hostess Dyad

7. The Dyad from Without 199

8. The View from the Mezzanine 212

9. Men Serving Men 226

Part IV. Swing Between the Nation and the State

10. (Un)American Patrol: Following the State on the Dance Floor of the Nation 243

11. The Making(s) of National Memory: Hollywood Canteen (the Movie) 281

Notes 321

Bibliography 351

Index 365
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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