The earliest archaeological evidence of dance originated 9,000 years ago when figures and symbols were drawn on the walls in the caves of India and Africa. Dance is the idea of creative sequences and motion with the values of emotion, performance, and symbolism while using music to help deepen the message.
Many forms of dance originating in Africa were tribal dances, the majority done in large groups with many having religious influence. The relationship between rhythm and movement is key with drums holding a significant role in how these dances were performed. These tribes also danced for special occasions such as birthings or weddings or even randomly throughout their day. Dance had a symbolic meaning of life and was believed to predict a bright future.
When African slavery began and specifically when slaves were taken to the Americas those slaves were stripped of every freedom which allowed them to practice their culture such as their fashion, their religious belifs, and especially their music with nothing but the muscle memory in order to pass on their African heritage to future generations. Being stripped of their culture resulted in the creation of a form of culture in America. Not even just in America though, they brought these rhythms and sounds to Central and South America as well. Black ethnic groups merged with White dances creating a fusion of culture.
After the middle passage, Africans in the Americas now danced and sang as they worked as slaves. Black people who worked as slaves in Spain and sections of South America were given slightly more freedom in their dancing while many white slave owners in America prohibited any sort of musical artistry. Africans took a creative approach to get around these rules, since moving or shuffling one's feet was considered dancing they would do shuffling movements that included the torso and hips.
As time went on more and more Black people became introduced into actual entertainment and were able to perform for audiences. Although these performances often included them being ridiculed, they found a way to feel pride in revealing their traditions.
The Cakewalk was introduced in 1891 on The Crole Show and was the first time an American dance move created by Black Americans became popular amongst White Americans. The 1920’s were an especially elevated time for Black dance in America. During the Harlem Renaissance several forms of creativity and art such as music, poetry, literature, and dance rose uphill. “Shuffle along” was a Broadway show created by Black Americans with an all black cast and was immensely popular with white audiences. A common dance that Black Americans popularized during this time was tap. Tap includes shuffling and brisk, clean sounds created by the feet often using shoes that have metal bottoms to exhibit the sound. Black Americans along with Irish Americans popularizing tap created a sound that tends to be upbeat with an elated tone.
It wasn’t until the 1930’s and 40’s that Black Americans became more involved in ballet and modern dance styles. White choreographers were intrigued by Black dancers and used aspects of popular Black dances to create new movement styles. Other styles that Black Americans contributed to in America were jazz and contemporary. The largest style of dance that they are given credit for however, is hip-hop. Hip-hop was a revolutionary movement with new themes of beats and movement that no one had ever seen before. The invention of hip hop forever changed American music and pop culture even to this day.
As we can see Black people are responsible for much more than hip-hop and rap and the way we view art and sound would be incredibly different without them. I have been a dancer since I was nine years old and I can’t begin to describe how thankful I am for the collection of cultures that brought me the styles of music and dance that I love today. My life would not be nearly as joyful or fulfilled without my love and passion for dance. As Black history month arrives let’s give thanks to Black culture and what beautiful creations it has brought us.
Some famous Black dancers through history to mention:
John W. Bubbles
“Dance Resources: Dance Styles and History.” Library Guides, qcc.libguides.com/c.php?g=818979&p=6267812.
“Black Dance in America, a Brief History.” African American Registry, 8 Nov. 2020, aaregistry.org/story/african-american-dance-a-brief-history/#:~:text=Tap%20dancing%20developed%20further%20in,hired%20Blacks%20to%20perform%20them.
Nastia, 18/02/2020 by, et al. “15 Black Dancers Who Changed American Dance.” Black History Month 2021, 2 Feb. 2021, www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/article/section/music-entertainers/15-black-dancers-who-changed-american-dance/.