This article reconsiders Josephine Baker’s legacy for the field of dance by emphasizing the principles of abstraction that she developed through performance. Although she is considered to be a modernist, Baker is rarely discussed as an abstractionist. Doing so requires a rethinking of the relationship between race and abstraction, a conversation revived by choreographer Miguel Gutierrez in 2018. Audiences in 1920s Paris described how Baker confounded identity categories to produce something new for the stage, but critics and scholars since have continued to define her by those very categories. Baker’s dancing prioritized the expression of kinesthetic energy over representation or narrative, clearly fitting within the purview of abstract dance. In building upon the work of Brenda Dixon Gottschild, I argue that Baker demonstrates how abstraction is not in opposition to Africanist dance aesthetics, but rather is a constitutive part of it.
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