Recitatif

Dance Symbol Icon

The first sentence of the story introduces the symbol of dance, when Twyla states: “My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick.” In this sentence, Roberta’s mother’s illness is paralleled with Mary’s love of dancing, such that dancing is constructed as a kind of disability or ailment. Indeed, Mary’s dancing habit is framed as a condition that prevents her from performing the duties of a mother. It is possible, of course, that “dancing all night” is a code used to obscure the truth of Mary’s life from the eight-year-old Twyla; in reality, Mary might be a sex worker or have another reason for giving Twyla to the shelter that she doesn’t wish to reveal to her daughter.

Dancing is associated with abnormality and deviance throughout the story. The gar girls dance in the orchard to music from the radio, a detail that conveys their sexuality and rebelliousness. When explaining why she ran away from St. Bonny’s during her third period living there, Roberta remarks: “I had to. What do you want? Me dancing in the orchard?”. Dancing thus signifies an ominous future that Roberta and Twyla want to escape. Note that during the 1950s and ‘60s, when the first parts of the story are set, many contemporary forms of dance popular among young people were associated with deviant sexuality and immorality. This association emerges from a longer tradition of the demonization of African-American styles of dance, which white America deemed wild, hypersexual, and un-Christian.

A more metaphorical form of dancing is associated with the character of Maggie. Because of her bow legs, Maggie moves in an unusual way; according to Twyla, “she rocked when she walked.” It is only later in the story that Twyla makes the explicit connection between Maggie’s way of moving and her mother’s dancing: “Maggie was my dancing mother… rocking, dancing, swaying as she walked.” Once again, dancing is associated with disability and abnormality—in other words, the inability to function in the way deemed appropriate by society.

Dance Quotes in Recitatif

The Recitatif quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dance. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperCollins edition of Recitatif published in 1998.
Recitatif Quotes

My mother danced all night and Roberta’s was sick. That’s why we were taken to St. Bonny’s.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta, Mary (Twyla’s Mother), Roberta’s Mother
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
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I used to dream a lot and almost always the orchard was there. Two acres, four maybe, of these little apple trees. Hundreds of them. Empty and crooked like beggar women when I first came to St. Bonny's but fat with flowers when I left. I don't know why I dreamt about that orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean. Just the big girls dancing and playing the radio. Roberta and me watching. Maggie fell down there once.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta, Maggie, The Gar Girls (The Older Girls)
Related Symbols: Dance, The Orchard
Page Number: 205
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I thought if my dancing mother met her sick mother it might be good for her. And Roberta thought her sick mother would get a big bang out of a dancing one. We got excited about it and curled each other's hair.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta, Mary (Twyla’s Mother), Roberta’s Mother
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

I didn't kick her; I didn't join in with the gar girls and kick that lady, but I sure did want to. We watched and never tried to help her and never called for help. Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb. Nobody inside. Nobody who would hear you if you cried in the night. Nobody who could tell you anything important that you could use. Rocking, dancing, swaying as she walked. And when the gar girls pushed her down and started rough-

housing, I knew she wouldn't scream, couldn't—just like me—and I was glad about that.

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Maggie, The Gar Girls (The Older Girls)
Related Symbols: Dance, The Orchard
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

"Did I tell you? My mother, she never did stop dancing."
"Yes. You told me. And mine, she never got well." Roberta lifted her hands from the tabletop and covered her face with her palms. When she took them away she really was crying. "Oh, shit, Twyla. Shit, shit, shit. What the hell happened to Maggie?"

Related Characters: Twyla (speaker), Roberta (speaker), Maggie, Mary (Twyla’s Mother), Roberta’s Mother
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
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Dance Symbol Timeline in Recitatif

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dance appears in Recitatif. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Recitatif
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...explains that she and Roberta were in a shelter called St. Bonny’s because Twyla’s mother “danced all night” and Roberta’s mother was “sick.” Twyla says that people often feel pity for... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...her last day she and Twyla sit in the orchard and watch the older girls dance and smoke. Roberta seems “sort of glad and sort of not” to be going home.... (full context)
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
...During the second time, when she was 14, she ran away to avoid ending up “dancing in the orchard.” Twyla is still in disbelief that Maggie was pushed, and asked Roberta... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...are saying goodbye once again ask about each other’s mothers. Twyla says Mary never stopped dancing, and Roberta sadly admits that Roberta’s mother never got well. After Roberta goes, Twyla wonders... (full context)
Friendship vs. Family Theme Icon
Outsiders, Outcasts, and the Unwanted Theme Icon
Sickness and Disability Theme Icon
Childhood vs. Adulthood Theme Icon
Race and Prejudice Theme Icon
...is that they didn’t kick Maggie but wanted to. Twyla determines that “Maggie was my dancing mother,” and that both women had “nobody inside.” She draws a parallel between Maggie’s disabilities... (full context)