Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom is a grassroots, web-based oral history project devoted to preserving and passing on the memory of dance in the Jazz era through the lives and words of everyday people. This is your story—please contribute by talking with a parent or grandparent, neighbor, or friend and explore the archive to see how others have shared their stories.

About the Project

The truest expression of a people is in its dance and in its music.

~Agnes de Mille

The History

Dance and music have always been a force for drawing people together, and they are inscribed by the full content of human history. The Jazz Dance Era—here loosely defined as the time between the 1920's and 50's—was a pivotal time in American culture: modern warfare was changing the global landscape, women had earned the right to vote, radio and film were transforming media, jazz and blues emerged as new modes of popular expression, and they carried with them new questions about American culture. In this sense, the story of everyday people making music, gathering to dance in livingrooms, ballrooms, streets and clubs, navagating the changing sounds and pressures of modernity— that is the story of so much more. It is this history that VJEB addresses and inquires after: the social history of American dance and music. It is a story of neighborhoods and the people in them, of culture shared and contested, and it often holds meditations for the present. Sadly this history routinely slips out of reach as our elders grow older and leave us.

The Mission

This project is an experiment predicated on a simple idea: that people can come together through technology to preserve and consider the stories of their elders as a vital part of public history and reflection. It is unfortunate that in a time abounding with communications technology, many seniors have been left behind on the digital front, meaning their voices too often get lost in our increasingly-digital public dialogue. While this project cannot dissipate that "digital divide," VJEB proceeds with an eye towards valuing seniors' voices on the web, and fostering intergenerational dialog.

How You Can Contribute

This repository will be open for public submissions from March 1, 2010, and afterward will be a permanent archive available on the web to scholars and the public. This site is also a place for research and exhibition suggested by materials in the evolving archive, and by community historians of dance and music doing great work. You can contribute by talking to a relative or friend who remembers music and dance in the jazz era, by flipping through their photo albums, by making them a priority. If you would like to contribute your time, talents, publicity or other resources to the project please e-mail kelly@jazzeravoices.org.

About the People

Kelly C. Porter is the creator of Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom. She is a writer, oral historian, and consultant holding a graduate degree from the University of Washington Museology Program and previous degrees in both anthropology and archaeology from Oberlin College. This project and its founder are interested in design-based research that tests new ways of conducting public history, maintaining standards of excellence, and creating relevant collaborative collections in the 21st Century.

Kelly's research clusters around acts of individual and collective memory in art, text, landscape and media. Her work, previously archaeological, has found a new nexus in the questions of contemporary technology and our public history. This includes the ways we shape and use history online, tensions between oral and written records, the mapping of memory over geographical and political space, information aesthetics, and the imprint of new technologies on the way we do history. Her approach is one deeply inflected by notions of social justice, seeking emancipatory potential in the ways we collect, consider and remember 'history.'

As a student of jazz and its many dances, Kelly has also had a decade-long research interest in the history of popular dance in America, and has performed, taught, lectured and DJ'ed to that end.

To contact Kelly or to inquire about her availability to help with your community history project, please email her.

Matt Menzer is a web designer and developer living and working in Seattle, WA. Motivated by the potential of the internet to make knowledge and data available to anyone, Matt has cultivated a passion for the technology that connects people.

His background as a jazz dancer also made Matt a good fit for Kelly's ambitious Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom project. Working from the open-source academic platform Omeka, Matt created the Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom application.

For more information about Matt or to inquire about hiring him, please email him.

Christian Frommelt is a St. Louis, Missouri native who lives and breathes his work in oral history. As a dance instructor and performer of early jazz and swing dances, Christian's work in oral history pieces together the cultural fabrics of dance and music that make up his historic hometown. His local dance research began as a Washington University undergraduate student, and has since developed into a rich collection of personal stories, archival materials, and interviews which shed light on territory dances like St. Louis Shag, and illustrate the environment of social dancing in St. Louis throughout the 20th century. Christian's research is primarily driven by longstanding relationships with older St. Louis dancers, and he is excited to place his work on the backdrop of the American experience as a VJEB contributor.

To contact Christian to inquire about his research or to hire him, please email him.

Generous moral, intellectual and logistical support for this project has been provided by:

Ron Chew

After retiring from his nationally-recognized tenure as Director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle, Ron Chew has built a reputation for combining cutting-edge programs and exhibits with a locally-oriented emphasis on social justice. He has organized numerous exhibits that favor a people or story centered approach.

He has won numerous regional and national awards for his ability to meld cultural identity, civic participation and museum programs into a new tool in the fight for social justice, including The Ford Foundation's 2004 Leadership for a Changing World Award. The American Association of Museums recognized him as one of the 100 most influential museum innovators over the past 100 years.

Kris Morrissey, Ph.D

Prior to her appointment as Director of the Graduate Program of Museology at the University of Washington in 2007, Kris Morrissey was Curator of Interpretation at the Michigan State University Museum, and Director of the MSU Museum Studies Program. She is the editor of the journal Museums & Social Issues, A Journal of Reflective Discourse published by Left Coast Press, Inc. She has over 20 years experience working in museums and has taught graduate courses on informal learning, interpretation, new technologies, research and evaluation. She is interested in the ways museums engage, educate, listen to, and change individuals, families, communities and society. She is currently working on a national project to study ways in which knowledge is co-created online.