Adrian Piper’s “Funk Lessons” (1984-1985) was a series of interactive performances in which Piper taught white participants how to dance to black funk music. In her “Notes on Funk I” (1985), Piper wrote that social dance “is a collective and participatory means of self-transcendence and social union in black culture,” noting this was “particularly true of funk, where the concern is not how spectacular anyone looks but rather how completely everyone participates in a collectively shared, enjoyable experience.” According to Piper, the aim of Funk Lessons was “to transmit and share a physical language that everyone was then empowered to use.” According to Wikipedia, country dancing is a participatory form of communal folk dance; country line dancing is marked by an absence of physical connection between dancers: the dances are choreographed, with a repeated sequence of steps to be uniformly executed. In “Notes on Funk III” (1984), Piper wrote that white Americans “might evade victimization by this syndrome [of the Other] by fully recognizing and celebrating all the dimensions of their cultural identity as Americans.” I am a white American; I do not know how to country line dance. For “Country Lessons,” in a comparable gesture of authenticity, I retained the services of a country line dance instructor, who came to the gallery with the appropriate music and taught the audience how to perform some of the better-known country line dances. I was not very good. In the handout provided at the performance, I excerpted passages from Piper’s “Notes on Funk I” and “III”, ending with her admonishment:
We ARE all cool here.
We are ALL cool here.