A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib:
Folks who would become stars of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s had their first big on-camera moments twisting and twirling within the wall of clapping hands. Fred “Rerun” Berry from What’s Happening!! was a hit in the early Soul Train Lines. Jody Watley and Jeffrey Daniel were Soul Train Line partners before the world knew them as part of Shalamar. Columbus, Ohio’s own Jermaine Stewart lit up the line with regularity all through ’77 and ’78. Once, in ’77, Stewart and his companion popped and locked through the line in matching glittering faux tuxedos. In 1986, when Stewart was riding high on the Top Five hit “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” Don Cornelius introduced him to the Soul Train stage by saying, He’s made good, and we’re all quite proud of him, and there was Jermaine as beautiful as ever, his hair pressed and laid, a long and radiant black tuxedo jacket hanging off his body. In the ’80s, Rosie Perez perfected the moves that would later serve as the opening to Do the Right Thing, her arms violently swinging at her sides, propelling her waist into short, measured thrusts. When Perez was really on in the line, she wouldn’t even finish dancing all the way down. She’d stop a little over halfway through and then confidently stroll the rest of the way, locking eyes with the camera.
I consider, often, the difference between showing off and showing out. How showing off is something you do for the world at large and showing out is something you do strictly for your people. The people who might not need to be reminded how good you are but will take the reminder when they can. The Soul Train Line was the gold standard of where one goes to show out.
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