by Barrie Jean Borich, editor of Slag Glass City

 

Every city has its serious offices of management and planning, its transportation infrastructures and information bulletins, its public gathering spots and institutions of high culture, and every city has its fan dancers.

When I first began building the Slag Glass City I wanted to call the journal the Naked City Review, but I found out pretty quickly that the rights to that old noir moniker would be impossible to obtain. My second choice was Sally Rand’s Fan Dance, an idea I eventually abandoned in search of something broader but which still conveyed some of what I seek out in city environments, which has to do with the sustainability inherent in reinvention, performance, and the recentering of convention. Thus I come back to this title as a section head for my periodic editorial revelations on the state of the Slag Glass City.

Sally Rand was the inventor of the fan dance, that staple of old and new burlesque dancing, by which I mean the artful performance of body and human desire set in urban venues of escape, entertainment, and pursuit of pleasure. I’m not talking about the ubiquitous strip joint here (though I’d love to consider publishing an essay on that subject) but rather I mean the feminist reframing space of the body that confronts and teases the history of how we all look and are looked upon. Sally Rand’s ostrich feather fan dance, performed to a Chopin and Debussy score, was the surprise hit of the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois—so popular it saved the fair from bankruptcy.

Sally Rand was born Helen Gould Beck and also appeared under the name Billie Beck. Cecil B. DeMille named her fan-and-bubble dancing persona Sally Rand, in homage to the Rand McNally atlas; I can’t say what Mr. DeMille was thinking with this association, but to my ear this links Sally Rand’s body to a big book of maps, and what better image could I find to guide the editorial vision of a journal I hope will expand, deepen, and re-bend our conversation about urban places and spaces.

The nonfiction arts are a kind of fan dance. We present ourselves as bare, but we are not merely gyrating without our clothes. The nonfiction works we publish in the Slag Glass City are made things, crafted forms, meant to carry us deeper into the questions and explorations of actuality. During the height of her Century of Progress Fair fame, Sally Rand rode through the streets of Chicago naked on a white horse. Correction: Upon the horse, and on the stage, Miss Rand was only apparently naked. In fact, she wore a sheer body suit; the audience perceived her as naked, but her nakedness itself was just the dance. In the landscape of architecture and managed green that makes the city, we get closer to the nature of our humanness through the passageways of artifice. In the fan dance, in our witness and attention, in our most scathing and intimate works of nonfiction, we are always engaged in the dance of making. It’s not just the body we see peeking out from behind the fan; it’s all in the art of the bump and grind. Come dance with us here in the Slag Glass City.

 

SLAG GLASS CITY • Volume 0 • November 2014
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