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Arts and Entertainment

Documentary adds dance to all that jazz with UNC Charlotte professor
Highlights influence of Alfred Bethel
Published Wednesday, September 23, 2020
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

UNC Charlotte dance professor Karen Hubbard (center) was a go-go dancer on the NBC television variety show “Hullabaloo” in the 1960s. Hubbard added commentary for the documentary “Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance.”

Making sure Alfred “Pepsi” Bethel’s name was included in “Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance” was Karen Hubbard’s mission.

The film was screened on Sept. 23, opening day of the virtual Charlotte Film Festival. As the festival is virtual, the film will be available for 24 hours and the festival runs through Sept. 27. Hubbard, a dance professor at UNC Charlotte, is one of the experts to appear in the feature-length documentary. It celebrates the lineage of jazz dance while filling in what she describes as blank pages in the art form’s history. Hubbard’s particular focus rested in the inclusion and credit to her mentor, Bethel, a jazz dancer, choreographer and leader of the Pepsi Bethel Authentic Jazz Dance Theater he founded in 1960. Bethel was a Greensboro native who performed in films and also did concert work.

“The film is a documentary of jazz dance history, and it shifts the focus from the European aesthetic to a more inclusive version of jazz dance history, beginning with the dancing of enslaved Africans who were held captive in the United States,” Hubbard said.

“My role was to talk about U.S. vernacular dance from the first half of the 20th century. My main goal was to get information about my dance mentor Pepsi Bethel, who had been a Savoy Lindy Hopper, to get him mentioned in the film.”

UNC Charlotte professor Karen Hubbard contributed to the documentary "Uprooted: The Journey of Jazz Dance."

Hubbard took classes with Bethel in New York, but it was not until after she left New York and would return to visit that she learned about him being a Savoy Lindy Hopper.

“He never ever talked about his background,” Hubbard said. “I had been accumulating this material from him not really knowing how valuable it was.”
Bethel’s company performed authentic jazz dance, which Hubbard explains was prevalent during the first half of the 20th century.

“That’s what the dancers called their work,” Hubbard said. “It was vernacular dance. To honor how they referred to their work, we call it authentic jazz dance. It’s traditional jazz dance. What happened was in the 1940s the modern dancers and the ballet dancers began to dance to jazz music, and they called their dance jazz dance without acknowledging the roots of vernacular dance. I see what they did as jazz-influenced dance, but it’s not the vernacular form of jazz dance.

“When I trace the lineage of jazz dance, I look at vernacular dance, and I see that it goes through breakdance and hip hop and who knows what. The vernacular dance influences the other forms. If the modern dancers and the ballet dancers had called what they were doing something other than jazz, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

For more information about “Uprooted”: https://uprootedfilm.com

For more information about the festival: https://www.charlottefilmfestival.org



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