“Black Americans have made enormous contributions to what is known worldwide as “American culture"—in the arts, music, literature, sciences, cuisine, and style. One of those social arts is black dance:
Africans brought their dances to North and South America, and the Caribbean Islands as slave labor starting in the 1500s. The dance styles of hundreds of African ethnic groups merged with European dances, forming the extension of the African aesthetic in the Americas. Dance has always been an integral part of daily life in Africa. In the Americas, it helped enslaved Africans connect with their homeland keeping their cultural traditions alive.
As before enslavement, Africans danced for special occasions, such as a birth or a marriage, or as a part of their daily activities and dance affirmed life and the outlook of a better future. African-Americans sang and danced while working as slaves, and as they converted to the religions of the Americas, they incorporated these traditions into these religions. Blacks who worked in the colonies of Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and South America were given more freedom to dance than enslaved Blacks in North America. Many North American slave owners barred Africans from most forms of dancing. Africans found ways of getting around these prohibitions. For example, since lifting the feet was considered dancing, many dances included foot shuffling and hip and torso movement. Dances dominant through the 18th century included the ring shout or ring dance, the calenda, the chica, and the juba.
The dances of the plantation moved onto the stage through Minstrel shows, which introduced black dance to large audiences during the 1800s. As popular entertainment, both Blacks and whites performed them. Initially, Blacks appeared as caricatures that were often ridiculed, but they drew from their cultural traditions even as they made fun of themselves. In 1891, The Creole Show, a revue staged on Broadway introduced The Cakewalk, the first dance created by Blacks to become popular with the white population. Other black-influenced dance trends that followed were the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, and the Twist. The 1920s and 1930s were an especially fruitful time for black dance in the United States. During the Harlem Renaissance, similar innovations in theater, music, literature, and other arts accompanied African-American developments in dance. Black musical theater, derived from minstrel shows, continued to popularize and legitimize black dance traditions and black performers, as it had in the 19th century. Black dance is as American as apple pie, and has become a global export in conjunction with black music.”
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