Black Cultures Influence on Dance History

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Have you ever wondered where the dance moves you see in music videos originated from? Throughout centuries, African American culture has continued to influence other art cultures such as, music, theatre, and literature. African Americans brought forth many cultural traditions including (but, not limited too) dance, to the North, South, and Central Americas as well as the Caribbean Islands, as early as the 1500’s.

Africans danced on many occasions; births, marriages and even during daily activities. Enslaved Africans that came to the Americas, continued to dance not only for their slave owners as entertainment but, as a way to stay connected to their homeland roots. These dances became more dominant through the 18th century, such styles; the ring shout, the calenda, the chica and the juba. Master Juba, creator of the juba, one of the first black performers to perform onstage for a white audience.


In 1891 The Creole Show was created combing both blacks and whites onstage to perform. This show introduced many new dances influenced by African American culture such as, the cakewalk, the charleston, the lindy hop, the jitterbug, and the twist. Early 1920s and 30s African-influenced shuffle dances, Irish jig, and English clog dancing combined, creating an element of which we know today as tap dancing. Black tap influencer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson introduced tap dancing to whites in early 1930s. Tap dancing took off in the 1930s and 40s when whites started to add this genre of dance to their motion pictures. At this time blacks started to study genres such as ballet and modern dance. Leading white choreographers integrated dance moves influenced by African Americans into their dances and hired black dancers to perform these movement styles.

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Dance created and performed by African Americans has become a permanent part of American dance history. The definition of dance has expanded including, jazz, contemporary, break dancing and hip-hop. Throughout the decades many black performers became famous in the dance world. Dancers from Misty Copeland, Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Janet Collins, Pearl Primus, Debbie Allen, Savion Glover, Rhapsody James, Fatima Robinson to LaurieAnn Gibson. Don’t recognize any of these names, I suggest looking them up. These are just some of the names part of Black History that have transformed the dance world. Next time your out dancing or in class, that twist was created 500+ years ago in villages.

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