Keep That Lane Open!: Race, Space, and Mardi Gras in Kansas City

Peter A. Williams


This essay explores the open-ended and complex performance of an underground Mardi Gras parade in Kansas City, MO, in 2012. The sounds, movement, and route of the parade are shaped by a network of globally circulating images of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the history of race and space in Kansas City, and the intercultural exchange involved in white performances of black cultural practices as they move from the “circum-Caribbean” city of New Orleans to the U.S. heartland of Kansas City. The parade is a partially improvised performance of a historical narrative linking Kansas City’s mostly white bohemian arts culture in the present to the city’s past as a major jazz city and center for African American culture. This narrative is told by bodily movement through urban space and through improvised sound and dance, and demonstrates the complex social relations that are highlighted when a cultural form is subject to cross-cultural communication, borrowing, and appropriation.

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Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation is generously supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (through both its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives and Aid to Scholarly Journals programs) and by the University of Guelph Library.
ISSN: 1712-0624