"The Harlem Dancer" Subject

Josephine Baker dancer

Josephine Baker, representing the Black female dancers of the 1920's.

The dancer described in “The Harlem Dancer” also presents us with a tension between internal and external anonymity. This dancer is not a figure that is anonymous in every sense of the word. Her body is being shown off to eager men, and in reading the poem we are privy to many different details about her body and perception. However, just as the dancer is not fully anonymous, she is not fully present either. She proves to be physically present but emotionally unknown and unacknowledged. The readers, along with the spectators in the dance club, see the dancer’s “swarthy neck” and “black, shiny curls” but nothing beyond that.

It is in the final couplet of the poem that the elements of anonymity in this dancer become present. With the lines, “But, looking at her falsely-smiling face,/ I knew her self was not in that strange place”, the speaker of the poem alerts us to the fact that we do not know this dancer as well as we may think. Her inner self is unrecognizable, unseen by all of the spectators around her, and in effect, her true identity is undisclosed to us. This internal anonymity is a valuable tool for the dancer, even though it shuts us out. By keeping her inner self anonymous, this dancer is given the opportunity to come to a full understanding of her own identity, without the input of the random spectators who throw money at her feet. Her anonymity allows her to not be defined by her physical actions as a dancer, for her true self is unknown to those who only see her as such.