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What's a Cakewalk?

Updated on April 4, 2015
Sheet music for the cakewalk
Sheet music for the cakewalk | Source

Historic Dance, Children's Game, and More...

When I was growing up, sometimes at community events there would be a cakewalk. It was sort of like musical chairs with everyone going around a circle while the music played. When the music stopped, someone would win a cake. That was forty years ago, so my memory of the exact details is vague.

Actually the word "cakewalk" has many meanings. I was surprised to find the cakewalk had such a rich history tracing back to slavery in the American South.

I hear the term "cakewalk" used now to mean that something was really easy to accomplish. "That race was a real cakewalk for Oliver." I was curious about the origin of this word, and started exploring. I started with the Merriam-Webster Online for the exact definitions for cakewalk. These are shown in the red boxes below.

South Carolina Tickle by SusieButlerBerkley

First Definition of Cakewalk

a black American entertainment having a cake as prize for the most accomplished steps and figures in walking

Sheet Music for a Cakewalk

From the style of the dresses, I'd place this in 1910 to 1920. Actually Black Americana such as this is highly collectible. The histories of this dance say it died out in the 1920s, but traces of it showed up in later dances such as the Lindy Hop.

What a joyful graphic for this sheet music. The cakewalk is such an infectious style of music, it makes you want to dance.
What a joyful graphic for this sheet music. The cakewalk is such an infectious style of music, it makes you want to dance. | Source

Zazzle poster made from an old sheet music of a Cake Walk:
Keep Moving Cake Walk by SusieButlerBerkley

Video of Early Film Showing the Cakewalk

They are even doing the cakewalk at the beach.

Books on Collecting Black Americana

Antique Trader Black Americana Price Guide (Antique Trader's Black Americana Price Guide)
Antique Trader Black Americana Price Guide (Antique Trader's Black Americana Price Guide)

Whether you collect specific areas of Black Americana like kitchenwares or tobacco advertising, you'll find it all here. It includes fine art, political memorabilia, music and much more.

 

Another Early Film Showing the Cakewalk

Collecting Black Americana
Collecting Black Americana

Many people collect historical items from Black history and also examples of early stereotypes.

 

The History of Black Dances in America - available from Amazon

Learn more about the cakewalk and other styles and trends in black dance with these books.

Second Definition - Cakewalk

a stage dance developed from walking steps and figures typically involving a high prance with backward tilt

Print of the Cake Walk

cakewalk print available from Amazon
cakewalk print available from Amazon

Art Print of the Cake-Walk

A Class Teaching the Cakewalk

The music is so joyful and the dancers are having so much fun. I like to watch this one over and over.

Just think, this dance style is over 150 years old and you can take lessons to learn the style.

Black Sheet Music on eBay - GOOD LUCK on your bidding!

These can have great graphics on the cover and can be framed to use as wall art.

Books about the Minstrel Show - available from Amazon

For most people, the words "minstrel show" brings up the mental image of Al Jolsen singing "Mammy." There's a lot more to know about this uniquely American stage preformances. Check out the history with the book and DVD shown here.

Third Definition of Cakewalk

a one-sided contest or an easy task

Source

Example:

"Some thought the Red Sox would easily win their division, but it was no cakewalk."

The Definition Missing from the Dictionary

A children's party game or a fundraiser similar to musical chairs with a cake as the prize.

Holding a Cakewalk Game or Fundraiser - at a festival, carnival or party

Here are variations of this game or contest as it is now played as a children's game. It can be a fundraiser too with participants paying for the chance to win a cake.

Visitors Come from Many Places to Learn about the Cakewalk

Source

Counter added on June 14, 2012

© 2010 Virginia Allain

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    • Lady Lorelei profile image

      Lorelei Cohen 3 years ago from Canada

      Oh I love it. I think we really do need to get back to a few old time traditions that are designed for just plain simple fun.

    • paperfacets profile image

      Sherry Venegas 3 years ago from La Verne, CA

      Very entertaining and colorful too. Before TV the stage show was king in both white and black neighborhoods.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 3 years ago

      Pretty interesting. I had no idea 'cakewalk' had so many meanings.

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This information was so useful to me. Tonight 27/07/2013 at The Triangle Club, Clevedon near Bristol in The United Kingdom I will be teaching a fun Cakewalk session to a group. This site has been so useful. Many thanks :-)

    • junecampbell profile image

      June Campbell 4 years ago from North Vancouver, BC, Canada

      I have have the expression, cakewalk, meaning something it easy to do. I had no idea as to the origins of the expression. This is fascinating and you have created a wonderful lens. It well deserves the purple star.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Interesting. First time I have heard of cakewalk. Thanks for sharing, never stop learning.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      Cakewalks are so fun...we used to do them at all of our small town celebrations. :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Well, this was some help but I was looking for how much money for admission it costed... I do have another way of doing it but your way is correct also... You do need to update it I dare say!

    • Joyce Mann profile image

      Joyce T. Mann 5 years ago from Bucks County, Pennsylvania USA

      Like you, Virginia, my cakewalk memories date from my childhood decades ago where you might win a cake when the music stopped. I recall numbered pieces of cardboard lying on the ground in a circle. Someone would call out the winning number, and whoever was standing on that number when the music stopped won the cake.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I was just reading some information my my family history and a man who knew my grandfather, who was from South Carolina and died in 1945 at the age of 38, said they used to go to Cake Walks to meet girls. The only Cake Walk I knew about was from the school carnival so I had to look to it. Thanks!

    • modernchakra profile image

      modernchakra 5 years ago

      The movements in black culture and society are definitely inclusive and represented in the development of the cakewalk and other African American musical movements. Two separate the two would detract greatly, thank you for highlighting the social elements and musical/dance elements. Take care.

    • JeanJohnson LM profile image

      JeanJohnson LM 5 years ago

      This was very nice to know, my sons school is having a cake walk and I wanted to know what it actually was. thanks for this lens.

    • Pam Irie profile image

      Pam Irie 5 years ago from Land of Aloha

      The first Cakewalk I saw on film was in Coal Miner's Daughter. It looks like a fun social event.

    • Joan Haines profile image

      Joan Haines 6 years ago

      I am surprised by the origins of the cakewalk. I've done a cakewalk at a church picnic. Would've been more fun if we'd danced instead of just walking.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      I had no idea of the history of the cakewalk. Thanks for sharing!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I always loved the cake walks. Don't think I ever won a cake but it was like musical chairs with a winner getting a cake!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 6 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      Although your lens says the cakewalk died out in the 20s, it didn't in my small mining town in Kentucky. We still held cakewalks at every opportunity, and brought home terrific cakes and a few that were really YUK!! Nevertheless, it was a fun thing for the grown-ups to do, even if they didn't win. I found this lens very interesting and I had no idea of the history of cakewalks. Thanks for sharing a great lens.

    • gottaloveit2 profile image

      gottaloveit2 6 years ago

      Love your lenses, Virginia! You always have the best stuff featured. Wish I had your imagination.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What fun to learn the history of the cake walk, I was totally unaware of the story behind it. I love the art print of the Cake Walk.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 6 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      We did cake walks too at various gatherings. Great information here!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      You did a wonderful job on this. I'll be pleased to link our article on MyAroundTown.com to your lens.

    • MamaRuth profile image

      MamaRuth 6 years ago

      This was totally new to me. I assumed when I saw the title that it was about the type of cakewalk held at childrens' school fundraisers or festivals. Very interesting!

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 6 years ago

      Very interesting lens!! You did a great job putting it together.

    • profile image

      RebeccaE 7 years ago

      I didn't know about the concept of cakwalks ( like this...) but I now do! thanks!

    • Grasmere Sue profile image

      Sue Dixon 7 years ago from Grasmere, Cumbria, UK

      What a really interesting piece of research. Blessed by and angel and added to my Angel lens

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 7 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Wow, I don't think I have ever known the history of the Cake Walk. We have Cake Walks at our annual Freedom Fest and they are always a big hit and raise a good bit of money. We play it similar to musical chairs. Very interesting and lensrolled to my Freedom Fest and Fall Festival lenses. Blessed.

    • Tagsforkids profile image

      Tagsforkids 7 years ago

      Quite a flashback as I too remember the Cakewalks growing up. Until I ran across your lens, i hadn't heard of one in quite some time. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!

    • annieangel1 profile image

      Ann 7 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      nice lens with nice explanations, thanks X

    • profile image

      poutine 7 years ago

      Very informative lens. I had no idea about the cakewalk game or dance.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 7 years ago

      I never knew the cakewalk was a dance. I enjoyed the videos. As far as the definition I knew from childhood, it's the one where you walk and win a cake. I won one in elementary school!

    • profile image

      BooJeeBeads 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens!

      I never thought cakewalk have so much significance in our history and culture.

    • NanLT profile image

      Nan 7 years ago from London, UK

      Back in the 1970s in Lebo we used to have cakewalks for different parties and activities with the local 4-H club. I was thrilled one year when I won the heart shaped valentine cake for the Valentine's Day party. We used to have several cakes and each would be awarded.

    • CherylsArt profile image

      Cheryl Paton 7 years ago from West Virginia

      Interesting; I never knew Cake Walk had so many meanings. When I first read the term, I thought it meant something like a progressive dinner, (everyone eats a different course as a group, at a different house), except maybe involving cake. That would be cool!

    • Kate Phizackerl1 profile image

      Kate Phizackerl1 7 years ago

      Great to find such a good lens on the cakewalk. Save's me writing one! I have featured it on my new Popular 1920s dances lens

    • squid-janices7 profile image

      squid-janices7 7 years ago

      Every year my church had a big picnic and carnival fundraiser where one of the events was a cakewalk. All the church bakers made up their best cakes to award as prizes. I loved the game and walked home with many a cake over the years! This lens whisked me right back to my childhood so thank you:)

    • oztoo lm profile image

      oztoo lm 7 years ago

      Fascinating look at the origins and present day cakewalk. Interestingly in regards to use of the word, here in australia we do not say "it was a cakewalk" we use the term "it was a piece of cake".

      Congrats on the well deserved purple star.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I just came across this site. I love it. Im bookmarking it. -Lucia (blogger for digital camera review)

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 7 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      How very interesting! I always enjoy finding out about the origins of words and phrases. Thanks for the information on CakeWalk and congratulations on your well deserved Purple Star!

    • WindyWintersHubs profile image

      WindyWintersHubs 7 years ago from Vancouver Island, BC

      Congratulations on your Purple Star! I enjoyed learning the history behind cake walk. We had cake walks at our children's schools. It was a lot of fun. :)

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 7 years ago

      We always had a cake walk at my elementary school and I vividly remember giving my best friend a ticket. Then she won a humongous coconut cake! "Cake Walk" is one of the many expressions I must constantly explain to my teenage stepson. Now I can send him here for the full story. Congrats on making the 100 Club!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      When I was a young girl we used to have Cake Walks at just about every social event in our little town. Ladies from all over would make their wonderful cakes that would be given away to the winner of the rounds of music chairs that were played. Never knew that it was actually a dance. Very neat lens!

    • lakern26 lm profile image

      lakern26 lm 7 years ago

      This was really interesting! I wasn't aware of this bit of history. I only recently learned about the "musical chairs" similarity because "The Cakewalk" is a game featured during the Mardi Gras celebration at my sons' school. Thanks for sharing!

    • aka-rms profile image

      Robin S 7 years ago from USA

      Terrific and informative!

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 7 years ago

      Such an interesting bit of history...I especially enjoyed looking at the sheet music, I have quite a stack of it that was in a box of paper items I picked up at auction. Nice! 5stars and a tweet:-) ~claudia