History of Black Dance

Harlem Renaissance

The history of black dance has played an important role in forming some of the dance forms that we know today. Modern dance, jazz, hip hop, tap and many other genres of dancing have been influenced by the dancing styles of Black people. Many people migrated from the Caribbean and Deep South at the time of Civil War to different cities of USA. New York also became home to many Blacks, where they practiced their different traditions as well as dancing styles.

The district of Harlem in New York was also known to be the most active place for Black as well as White New Yorkers to bring their dance and music together. The clubs of Harlem were alive with excitement where many African American practiced new dance movements. Dance genres such as Charleston, Lindy hop, and Jitterbug were popular at the clubs here. The Harlem Renaissance also became renowned in Europe by 1920.
Shuffle Along

A Broadway called the Shuffle Along inaugurated in 1921. The first musical made by Black community was an instant hit and created more awareness among Americans towards black dancing. The show also opened up possibilities for Black individuals who wanted to perform and dance. Running Wild, a Broadway hit of the 1923 started in England, creating Charleston dancing style an immense hit.

Josephine Baker

A star dancer known as Josephine Baker performed at the Revue Negre at Paris in 1925. She was the most popular and the highest paid star of Europe. But she was faced with hostile and racist reactions upon returning to USA. She returned back to Paris where she married French and obtained citizenship of Europe.

Florence Mills

Black dances and performers started to become more popular in Britain from the early 20th century. Florence Mills was also one of the stars to perform in the musical “Shuffle Along” and later in the “Plantation Review” which launched in 1924.
The next musical of the singer and dancer was known as the “Blackbirds”. The theme song from the show “I’m a Little Blackbird looking for a Bluebird” became her trademark song. The comedy touch in her singing and dancing made her loved by all who watched her perform. She was a star in London as well as New York with UK journalists calling her the talk of the town.

She had hopes to start an all black revue but she died in 1927 at the age of 32. Her funeral took place in Harlem where thousands of fans in attendance.

Buddy Bradley

Buddy Bradley was worn in 1908 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He made his debut in Florence Mill’s Revue in 1926. He was primarily a self taught dancer and staged many dances in 1920. He also choreographed routines for famous stars like Eleanor Powel, Ruby Keeler and Adele Astaire.
The dance and stage performer Buddy Bradley was hired by C.B.Cochran in 1933 to work on the Rodgers and Hart musical “Evergreen”. This was the first time a Black dancer choreographed and performed on an all white stage show. He also left New York at that time and shifted to London. Many rumored that he was forced to move because the Mafia of Harlem did not approve Bradley teaching dance to his girlfriend.

He also worked with Jessie Mathews and Jack Buchanan in 1930. He joined hands with Frederick Ashton for the ballet “High Yellow”.

He ran his own dancing studio in London until 1967. He also choreographed many dances in England, France, Switzerland, Spain as well as Italy. He concentrated his work on mixed classical, jazz and modern dances. He was known to be the first African-American to run a white company and form his own troupe to perform in variety shows and televisions.

Modern Dance

African-Americans started to perform more in ballet and modern dance from 1940s. Black American dancers known as Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus became the pioneers of this form. They studied black dance in Africa and the Caribbean and bought their studies back to America and in to the classroom of Modern Dance. Their work was greatly influenced by Berto Pasuka who formed the first Black dance company in Britain known as the Ballet Negres.

Lester Horton Dance Theatre and the Alvin Ailey American dance Theatre also played a major role in influencing people with modern dance. They were white and black choreographers and hired African American dancers for their shows.

Katherine Dunham

She is known as the dancer, choreographer and anthropologist in the arts world. Born in 1909, she sang for local churches from a young age. She started her career in Broadway with the musicals LeJazz Hot and Tropics in the year 1934. She also introduced the dance form L’ag’ya which was the combination of rhythms and martial arts movements of the slaves.

Katherine Dunham studied the form of dancing from Haiti, Trinidad, Martinique as well as Jamaica. She had hoped that the White dancers will give equal status and opportunity to Black dances. She developed the techniques of ballet and modern dance in anticipation to trace back her dance roots. She formed a dance school in 1944 at Chicago. Her students learnt tap dance, ballet in combination with philosophy and anthropology of the forms.
Her famous Katherine Dunham company is devoted to African-American as well as African-Caribbean dance. She was known for her smooth and fluent style in choreography. She also performed in many films as well as penned many books for her audience.

She was named America’s irreplaceable dance treasure in 2000. She has many other awards and recognitions to her credit. She died in 2006.

Pearl Primus

The dancer, choreographer and anthropologist was born in 1919. She was born in Trinidad and raised in New York City. She made her professional debut in 1943. She founded her first dance company in 1946.

She created “Strange Fruit” in 1945. The passionate and angry show had no music. It was based on a poem by Lewis Allen about a black man being lynched by a white man. In the following years, she studied as well as danced in the Caribbean and USA. She worked for the New Dance Group Studios where not many black dancers were given the opportunity to dance alongside White. She received her PHD from New York University for the subject of Dance in Africa.

Fanga was her most famous dance which was an interpretation of welcome by the Africans. Her dance company now known as Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute is known for its method of blending African and Caribbean dance with modern and ballet dances. President Bush also honored Pearl Primus with the National Medal of Arts in 1991. She passed away on October 29, 1994.

Arthur Mitchell

He is known as the world’s most accomplished art director, choreographer and a dancer. Born on March 27, 1934 in New York City where he began his dance training at the New York City High School of the Performing Arts. He was the first student to win the Annual Dance Awards.

He received scholarship at the School of American Ballet at the age of 18. He trained and danced with the Academy for 15 years. At his career with the School of American Ballet, he became the principal dancer and performed many roles for his audience. He is most renowned for the pas de deux from Agon and the cheerful Puck in The Midsummer’s Night Dream. The two notable performances were mainly choreographed for him by the late George Balanchine.

He performed in many nightclubs, Broadways, film, and television as well as became a guest star on American TV. Mitchell organized the American Negro Dance Company in 1966. The company was made to promote the USA at the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Africa. He also founded the National Ballet Company of Brazil in Rio Di Janeiro in 1967.

Mitchell was more inspired to educate dance to the underprivileged children especially those of Harlem District when he came to know of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He started the school known as the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1968. The school aimed at letting the world knows that black dancers were as suited for ballet as white. The school was a success with the students giving their first performance in 1971.

Arthur Mitchell is known as a legacy each day at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. His dance company and school is a multicultural institute where thousands of artists come from all over the world to learn and become a great dancer / performer like him.

Alvin Ailey Dance Company

The Alvin Ailey Dance Company Is a modern dance institute based in New York. It was founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey.

Being born in a poor rural area, Ailey was inspired to dance after watching Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. He studied dance with Lester Horton Studio and with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Katherine Durham. He danced in Broadway musicals and taught students about it in order to earn extra cash. He became the lead dancer in a musical which was choreographed by Jack Cole. The show was known as Jamaica.

His company the Alvin Ailey Dance Company aimed at teaching black culture to its student and enlightening them to the world of American dance. Alvin Ailey himself has created more than 79 dances for his company. The choreographed dances showed a mix of dance forms from modern to jazz. The most famous work of his is known as the Revelations.

The company is currently made up of 30 dancers. It is led by the Robert Battle who is the artistic director. The associate is Masazumi Chaya.

 

The Origins And The History, Of Black Dance

black dance 1Black dance is a variety of style that has been inspired by the tribal type dances of African people, the the slave dances and the Harlem social types of dances. The jazz dances that are part of Broadway musical are also originated from the Black culture. The dances are influenced by the social and also human rights issue that have been faced by the Africans.

The very first black “British” Dance Organisation was started in 1946. The company was known as the Ballet Negres. Even though American black dancers frequently performed in England, they became popular in Britain in late nineteenth and early twentyth century.

Africa and West Indies

The groups from every single country in the African continent have their own individual dance. It can be either a ceremony or any social function or a celebration to mark any season, recreation or a wedding. The dancer can take on the role of a teacher a commentator and even spiritual person or a story teller.

The Africans from the Caribean island also have their own traditions regarding the dance forms. They mostly trace back to the African’s roots and its colonial past i.e. the British, the French, the Spanish, and Dutch. The famous dances known as “Calenda” and “Chica” were slave type dances that featured the rhytms and traditions of the African.

The most popular African slave dance was the Calenda. Many of the plantation owners put a ban on the dance form in fear that social unrest would increase more and people would favor the slaves more. In the dance, women and men would face one and other in two lines. The lines then dance towards one and other and then back away. Then again towards each other and make any physical contact (slapping their thighs and sometimes even kissing). The dance becomes fast and the movements gain in terms of sexuality. It is even said that Calenda and Chica were danced more for courtship than any other reason.

Dances such as “Charleston & Cakewalk” are also influenced by the slave dances.

Minstrel shows

The black ministrel performers were the first dancers to showcase in England. They appeared at the Vauxhall Gardens as well as the London play theatres from around the mid nineteenth century. Billy Kersands also performed for her majesty Queen Victoria who happened to be well impressed by his performance.

White performers also performed the 1st minstrel performance in the United States. They messed up their faces with burned cork imitating the dances of black African people. Their dances was a mix of African ring dancing as well as the jig of the Irish. The “Clown” and the “Dandy” were known as the comical minstrels. They mocked the black people but African people also started to perform minstrel. Bohee brothers, Bill Kersands and Juba were some of the most famous black minstrel.

Billy Kersand was one of the pioneers of soft shoe dance and the Buck and Wing dance. He was giant of a man but he danced on extremely light step. The Bohee brothers also specialized in the soft shoe danced. The unique aspect of them was that they played banjo while dancing. It was also rumored that they taught the Prince of Wales to play the banjo.

The famous song “Oh England is de grand place or the real Jim crow” was sung by Paul Bedford. The writer was known as Paul Bedford and was performed in Pantomime. The song was a copy of “Jump Jim Crow” which was performed by white comedian and minstrel Thomas Dartmouth Rice. He blacked up to be an African American for the show.

Although many white men put burnt cork on their face to look like the blacks, Thomas Rice was one of the most popular and made a lot of money with his act. He was a super hit in London and Dublin as well as America. His posture and the movements in his dance and song all made minstrel show popular in the 19th and the 20th century.

Master Juba

jubaWilliam Henry Lane also known as Master Juba in the dance world was born in Rhode Island in the United States. He was popular for dancing in music and clubs halls where he happened to be given the title of the king of all the dancers.

Charles Dickens also viewed a performance by Juba and noted him as the ‘wit of the assembly and the greatest dancer ever known’.
He was renowned for “dancing the jig” appearing in many shows including Serenaders. He also showed his talent at the Vauxhall Gardens in an evening show that included other prominent persons such as “Barry – the –  clown”.

The famous dancer happened to die in London in the year 1852.  Juba happens to come from the  dance form of Africa and the West Indies. The dance which features heaps of stamping on the ground and clapping of the hands is also very rhythmical.

Dance in Musical

The Cakewalk was also a popular dance that two USA musicals that visited the UK started. One was the Creole Show and the other in Dahomey.
The Creole Show started in 1889 at New York. It was the first all black musical which had 16 black females as the chorus girl. The leading dancers were Dora Dean and Charles Johnson who performed the Cakewalk as the final dance.

The danced imitated the way white people danced where the upper body was stiff but legs moved. The music made by Scott Joplin was mainly used for this danced. The rhythms of African drumming were inspired in the musical piece.

The Dohomey musical came to London in the year 1903. The show was the first black musical to play at the Shaftesbury Theatre and featured the writers Bert Williams and George Walker.

The lyrics of the show were penned by Paul Dunbur and the music composer was Will Marion Cook.

Even though the show didn’t see much success in USA, it attracted many in London. The show closed after 53 performances in America but was enjoyed by many especially men in UK.

The show had a cast of 100 members with Rhoda King, Jessie Ellis and Birdie Williams being the most noted.
The show was publicized well in magazines with posters and photos all over the streets. The organizers of the show also made sure that the cast and crew walked around the town of London to create more public awareness and interest.

 

African-American Music through the Centuries

black music 1940s African-American music has influenced modern artists and songs quite heavily, but the music itself has developed immensely over the years. Every century has seen innovative genres come to life, and you’ll see that African American musicians have contributed tremendously in this. With the prevalence of slavery and the Second Great Awakening, African Americans created spirituals and work songs to ease their pains and sufferings they felt working under the control of white masters.

sister rosetta tharpeThe music changed tremendously again after the Civil War with a lot of foreign and popular influence. Many genres and styles were developed from the lower-class occupations African-Americans were allowed to have at the time. Barbershop quartets were a popular genre that developed as African-American men worked tirelessly throughout the day in barbershops. White singers adopted this harmonious style and changed it for the public.

Jazz, ragtime, and blues become quite popular at the beginning of the 20th century. However, these genres were called “race music” by the white majority public, which led Billboard to create a separate African-American music list in 1942. Even when these songs were played for the white public, they were heavily adapted. This change to accommodate the white audiences led to swing and pop jazz.salt n pepa

Rock and roll was the product of rhythm and blues, but ended up getting popularized by white musicians who had commercial appeal. This genre was also adapted, which led to a country music and rock and roll mixture that people called rockabilly.

Doo Wop developed in the 1950s, which incorporated group harmonies, nonsensical syllables, simple lyrics, and barely any instruments. Unfortunately, British pop music gained so much popularity that most African-American artists were pushed off U.S. charts. There were, however, many Motown, soul, and funk artists that maintained their prosperity.

Cypress HillAs the 1960s sprouted psychedelic music, African-American musicians followed. A lot of psychedelic soul crossovers were developed during this time. Funk really took off in the 1970s, which then led to disco. These two genres were quite melodic in nature, which was an important criteria for mainstream music at the time. Still, as a whole, African-American artists failed to truly achieve success among white audiences. Near the end of the 1970s, hip-hop arose. This led to DJs and MCs who were quite popular among young African Americans.

The end of the 20th century created a lot of awareness of African-American artists. This time period was home to Michael Jackson, tupacLionel Richie, Prince, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, etc. Rap and hip-hop artists also achieved quite some fame; including Cypress Hill, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Peppa, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Wu-tang Clan, Tupac Shakur, Notorious B.I.G., etc. Many of these artists used music to bring about more social awareness among young African-Americans at the time. Other famous black musicians.

After long periods of soul, funk, hip-hop, and rap; African-American artists began reaching fame in the once white-dominated rock genre again near the end of the 1980s. These musicians included Lenny Kravitz, Ben Harper, etc.

As you can see, African-American music has always had an impact on the U.S. music industry. Much of this development has been affected by the social issues and situations of those times, but the influence the music had has always been quite impactful. Today, it’s obvious for people to see how all genres of music have been touched by African-American music. It will continue to do so, and music will keep changing and developing as a result.

 

The Development of African-American Music in the U.S

black music trumpetWhen speaking of African-American music, you must understand that it covers a wide variety of genres that have been influenced or developed by African Americans quite heavily. Today, we know these genres to be ragtime, blues, jazz, doo-wop, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, hip hop, funk, disco, house, and techno. While some may see one of these genres and not particularly attribute it to African Americans, you should know that African American musicians have contributed massively to the development of all these genres.

The beginning of what we know to be African-American music stems from the times of slavery, before the U.S. Civil War. From this era, the music developed through the centuries, and gathered many European influences in the process. Of course, genres like hip hop, techno, and house are exceptions of this adaptation. These are more contemporary styles that developed late into the 20th century. The influences for these were funk and soul genres.supremes

African Americans were often employed as musicians who played for the entertainment of the military following the U.S. Civil War. During their times in military bands, these musicians were subject to play a lot of European style music. From this, ragtime music was created, which was further developed into jazz later on. Jazz was a mixture of all these European styles coupled with the folk and dance styles of Saharan Africa.

Both ragtime and jazz made quite an impact on music as a whole in the U.S. during the 20th century. Songs played in these styles were recorded for the first time in the 1920s, which marked the impact of how popular ragtime and jazz were among the public. As you might already know, the influence of these genres still remain in contemporary songs today. You’ll see bit of these styles not only among African-American artists, but from songs of all different racial and socio-economic groups. The love of these genres is just outstanding.

The Historic Characteristics of Traditional African-American Music

african american music historyNot only did African American musicians incorporate European styles and the harmonic features of western and sub-Saharan cultures, the historical turmoil of slavery influenced their music quite a bit as well. This horrible time caused them to develop certain styles in their music, some of which remains the basis of contemporary genres. In fact, most African-American music today have adapted certain techniques from these times.

Some of the techniques that developed pre-Civil War were work songs, field hollers, and call and response. Following the war, musicians developed vocality, meaning specialized voice effects. These included falsetto, melisma, guttural effects, rhythmization, and interpolated vocality. Once ragtime and jazz developed, African American musicians began incorporating improvisation and blue notes; as well as polyrhythms like concrescence, tension, percussion, syncopation, swung notes, and improvisation.

New textures like antiphony, homophony, heterophony, and polyphony were also incorporated. As African-American music became a lot more mainstreamed, harmonious techniques that used vernacular progressions; such as spirituals, multi-part harmonies, and complex phrasing; were used in songs. Examples where you might find these styles are Doo Wop and barbershop genres.