The original Banana Girl?

Josephine BakerJosephine Baker had a style all to her own.  Her unique aesthetic and bold choreography are still studied today as paradigms of 20s and 30s vernacular jazz movements.  Not only is she an important figure in the Swing world, but her political significance trumps many of her contemporaries. She was the first African American female to star in motion pictures and to perform at a racially integrated American Concert Hall. She aided the French resistance in WWII which won her the prestigious military award of the Croix de Guerre and she is especially noted for her contributions to the American Civil Rights movement in the 1970s.

Political clout aside, her moves were a tour de force all by themselves. Here is some essential knowledge that every swing dancer should know about Josephine Baker:

1. Signature Moves- Frenzied Charleston, leggy Knee Rocks, Camel Walk variations, etc.

Originally hailing from Missouri, this “Creole Goddess” (as the French called her) exploded onto Parisian stages in 1927. Not soon after this, she started her movie career and shot right up to became the highest paid female performer in Europe and assumed the appellation of the Most Photographed Woman in the World.  This clip is from La Revue Des Revues. See if you can pick out the signature moves mentioned above!

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2. Baker’s Banana Dance is probably one of the most famous dances during that era.

Whether it’s the bananas or the way she moves with them, this dance has gone down in history and is something every dancer should know about. (Little Fact:  This performance is also noted in academia as one of the main embodiment of a euro-centric fascination for the “Exotic Other.” Hmmm…)

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3. Singer and Parisian Night Club Owner”J’ai deux amours” was her biggest hit.

She also went on to own of the top jazz clubs in Paris called Chez Josephine where many of the elite nightlife went to dance and sing.

4. Exotic Clothing Style

Josephine BakerBaker was known for her “barely there” clothing, her pet cheetah on a leash (which would consistently run into the orchestra pit, and skirts made out of feathers or bananas (of course!).

Josephine Baker