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African American Dance: History on the Move

Updated on July 25, 2017
Dance in the African American community has always been a part their heritage for centuries. However, these dance where learned in everyday spaces and not in dance studios.
Dance in the African American community has always been a part their heritage for centuries. However, these dance where learned in everyday spaces and not in dance studios. | Source
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Dance for has been a part of their society. The art form has been to express different emotions such as happiness, grief, etc  .There certain restrictions placed on enslaved Africans when it come to their dance steps. For example, they could not kick their legs up in the air.The dances that were seen in plantations were featured in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows was entertainment that were popular during the nineteenth century. The cakewalk is the first American dance to be popular  with both black and white people.
Dance for has been a part of their society. The art form has been to express different emotions such as happiness, grief, etc  .
Dance for has been a part of their society. The art form has been to express different emotions such as happiness, grief, etc . | Source
There certain restrictions placed on enslaved Africans when it come to their dance steps. For example, they could not kick their legs up in the air.
There certain restrictions placed on enslaved Africans when it come to their dance steps. For example, they could not kick their legs up in the air. | Source
The dances that were seen in plantations were featured in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows was entertainment that were popular during the nineteenth century.
The dances that were seen in plantations were featured in minstrel shows. Minstrel shows was entertainment that were popular during the nineteenth century. | Source
The cakewalk is the first American dance to be popular  with both black and white people.
The cakewalk is the first American dance to be popular with both black and white people. | Source

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.

Dances of the 20th Century and Beyond

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The Savoy Ballroom, rent parties were the places where swing dance, the Lindy hop, the jitterbug and the Charleston were popular dances in the 1920s-1940s. The Lockers are pioneers of early hip hop dance.During the early 1900s, Stepping or step-dancing  has been a part of fraternity and sorority life.
The Savoy Ballroom, rent parties were the places where swing dance, the Lindy hop, the jitterbug and the Charleston were popular dances in the 1920s-1940s.
The Savoy Ballroom, rent parties were the places where swing dance, the Lindy hop, the jitterbug and the Charleston were popular dances in the 1920s-1940s. | Source
The Lockers are pioneers of early hip hop dance.
The Lockers are pioneers of early hip hop dance. | Source
During the early 1900s, Stepping or step-dancing  has been a part of fraternity and sorority life.
During the early 1900s, Stepping or step-dancing has been a part of fraternity and sorority life. | Source

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.

Figures and Influencers

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The first African American to dance for an mayor ballet company.Katherine Dunham was not only dancer but an anthropologist as well. She did her field work in the Caribbean islands of Haiti  and Jamaica.  During her time in those islands, Dunham back to move she observed to the United States.Alvin Ailey was a student of Katherine Dunham. He started the Alvin Ailey Dance Company where his well known production Revelations takes place.Arthur Mitchell is the first African American to become the New York City Ballet's permanent member. He is also the founder of the first African American ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969.While in the musical group, The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson was known for Th e Robot in the 1970s. About a decade later, Jackson introduced the moonwalk on Motown 2Misty Copeland is the first African American to become the first African American female principal for the American Ballet Theatre.
The first African American to dance for an mayor ballet company.
The first African American to dance for an mayor ballet company. | Source
Katherine Dunham was not only dancer but an anthropologist as well. She did her field work in the Caribbean islands of Haiti  and Jamaica.  During her time in those islands, Dunham back to move she observed to the United States.
Katherine Dunham was not only dancer but an anthropologist as well. She did her field work in the Caribbean islands of Haiti and Jamaica. During her time in those islands, Dunham back to move she observed to the United States. | Source
Alvin Ailey was a student of Katherine Dunham. He started the Alvin Ailey Dance Company where his well known production Revelations takes place.
Alvin Ailey was a student of Katherine Dunham. He started the Alvin Ailey Dance Company where his well known production Revelations takes place. | Source
Arthur Mitchell is the first African American to become the New York City Ballet's permanent member. He is also the founder of the first African American ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969.
Arthur Mitchell is the first African American to become the New York City Ballet's permanent member. He is also the founder of the first African American ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1969. | Source
While in the musical group, The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson was known for Th e Robot in the 1970s. About a decade later, Jackson introduced the moonwalk on Motown 2
While in the musical group, The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson was known for Th e Robot in the 1970s. About a decade later, Jackson introduced the moonwalk on Motown 2 | Source
Misty Copeland is the first African American to become the first African American female principal for the American Ballet Theatre.
Misty Copeland is the first African American to become the first African American female principal for the American Ballet Theatre. | Source

Influncers

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.

What is Your Favorite African American Dancer?

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