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Television Reviews : 'Watch Me Move'

September 18, 1987|LEWIS SEGAL | Times Dance Writer

There's fabulous footage of black American social dancing to be savored in "Watch Me Move" at 10 p.m. Sunday on KCET Channel 28. But be warned: The first few moments of this hourlong, locally produced documentary are pretty dreadful.

Hang in there. Pay no attention to the silly special effects and ridiculous pseudo-narrator: a walking cliche called "Mr. Dance," halfway between Uncle Remus from "Song of the South" and De Lawd in "Green Pastures." Ignore, too, the claim that the Cakewalk represented "the first worldwide dance fad." It ain't necessarily so.

Though some segments are unaccountably weak (the one on the '40s, for example) and there's too much talk layered on top of the dancing during the telecast, the attempt to find a pattern in decade after decade of exuberant self-expression yields valuable insights about American culture in general and black-style in particular.

Issues including tribalism, sexuality and the shifting predominance of music and dancing are discussed by a wide range of black dance professionals (Charles "Honi" Coles, Cholly Atkins, Michael Peters, Paula Kelly and Shabba Doo, among others), with a rather strained overview provided by dance historian Sally R. Sommer.

But the indispensable moments of "Watch Me Move" are the vintage film clips that director W.E. Baker has assembled: unidentified dancers performing everything from crazy-legged folk specialties of the late 19th Century to break dancing and other pop forms of the moment.

The sequence showing dances based on novelty songs (the Funky Chicken, Monkey and Hitch Hike, for instance) is one highlight, but the program's chief claim to glory may be the footage of the Lindy Hop. Here, in wave after wave of amazing individual dexterity and even more dazzling teamwork, we see certain new possibilities defined for American dancing, possibilities that--raw or refined, authentic or watered down by non-blacks--made us the wonder of the world.

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