African American Dance: History on the Move Essay

Pre 20th Century

More than than just for fun. African danced as art of their daily activities and special occasions such as births, funerals, religious rituals, weddings. The drum has always been a part of the music that the Africans danced to. Other instruments included the kora (string guitar), the shakere, xylophones, harps, musical bows, kalimba (finger piano), and bells.

Dance of the slaves. The earliest known dance by the black slaves took place in the Virginia’s Great Chesapeake Bay. The dance that took place in the plantation were also seen in minstrel shows. It was popular entertainment where blacks and whites performed. However, the performances were demeaning towards black people because of blackface makeup that the white (an even some black) performers wore.

Dance of the freedom. The newly freed slaves now had a reason to dance because the Civil War was over and slavery was no more. Vaudeville became another popular form of American entertainment. The cakewalk was the first American dance ever to be popular both black and white people. The turn of the century ushered in new dance that will become a part of American dance in general.

20 Century to Present Day

Step Into Higher Education. With the rise of HBCU’S (Historically Black Colleges and University) in the United States, step-dancing or stepping has became a part of African American fraternity and sorority life. It origins came from the South African boot dance that are done by South African miners.

The Rebirth.The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s in New York City had a rich history in the development of American dance. The Cotton Club, the Savoy Ballroom and rent parties were the places to be learn the latest dances. Tap dancing also became well known dance among the African American community.

Dancing the Blues Away. In spite of Great Depression and World War, the 1930s through 1940s was also the Swing era. The Lindy hop, the jitterbug, the balboa and other dances were also has origins in Harlem, New York as well.

Hip Hop, Pop and Lock. In 1970s, Bronx, New York became the birthplace of a new emerging music genre known as hip-hop. This music also brought new dance moves as well. Popping, locking, and the Worm were some of dances that came from this music genre.


African American dancers have influenced and broken racial barriers in many dance genres through the years. One of those genres just happen to be ballet. Ballet dancers of color had faced prejudice because ballet has European origins and aesthetic.Ballet is not the only dance genre where African American dancer made a difference. Jazz, modern, and dance genres have had innovations thanks to African American dancers.Some of these dancers even started there own dance companies. Alivin Ailey, Arthur Mitchell and the others have broke barriers when it came to race and American culture.

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