With Shuffle Along closing on Broadway (yes, did you hear, Audra Macdonald is pregnant and ticket sales had slumped) I assuaged my disappointment (I meant to see this reincarnation of the historic black musical, but never did) by picking up a book at the Princeton Public Library’s youth section.
The engrossing and poignant “Juba: A Novel” by Walter Dean Myers is a must-read page-turner for young people interested in dance history and anyone interested in black history. Juba was both the name of a dance and the name of a legendary dancer, William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba, the first black man to dance for white audiences. Read about Juba in the New York Times Magazine account of Shuffle Along.
Myers describes how Juba danced for Charles Dickens, who famously wrote about him. In Juba’s (imagined) words, “I let the music take me over and sweep me across the floor. I spun, I moved across the floor on one leg and back on the other, I double-stepped, slid on one leg as I moved backward, switched to a six-beat clog step. I danced faster than I had ever danced, and with more precision than I ever had before, and with more joy in my heart. When the piano player got to the last chorus, I was tired and exhausted, and as happy as I had ever been in my life.”
The dancing part is the fun part. The being black in the 19th century is the hard part, but for youthful readers, Myers makes it OK.