The history of African-American social dance
This is the Bop. The Bop
is a type of social dance. Dance is a language and social dance is an
expression that emerges from a community. A social dance isn't choreographed by
any one person. It can't be traced to any one moment. Each dance has steps that
everyone can agree on, but it's about the individual and their creative
identity. Because of that, social dances bubble up, they change, and they
spread like wildfire. They are as old as our remembered history.
social dances, we see over 200 years of how African and African-American
traditions influenced our history. The present always contains the past. And
the past shapes who we are and who we will be. The Juba dance was born from enslaved
Africans' experience on the plantation. Brought to the Americas, stripped of a
common spoken language, this dance was a way for enslaved Africans to remember
where they're from. It may have looked something like this – slapping thighs, shuffling
feet and patting hands. This was how they got around the slave owners' ban on
drumming, improvising complex rhythms just like ancestors did or in the Yoruba
communities of West Africa. It was about keeping cultural traditions alive and
retaining a sense of inner freedom under captivity.
It was the same
subversive spirit that created this dance: the Cakewalk, a dance that parodied
the mannerisms of Southern high society – a way for the enslaved to throw shade
at the masters. The crazy thing about this dance is that the Cakewalk was
performed for the masters, who never suspected they were being made fun of.
Now you might recognize
this one. 1920s – the Charleston. The Charleston was all about improvisation
and musicality, making its way into Lindy Hop, swing dancing and even the Kid n
Play, originally called the Funky Charleston. Started by a tight-knit Black
community near Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston permeated dance halls
where young women suddenly had the freedom to kick their heels and move their
Now, social dance is
about community and connection; if you knew the steps, it meant you belonged to
a group. But what if it becomes a worldwide craze? Enter the Twist. It's no
surprise that the Twist can be traced back to the 19th century, brought to
America from the Congo during slavery. But in the late '50s, right before the
Civil Rights Movement, the Twist is popularized by Chubby Checker and Dick
Clark. Suddenly, everybody's doing the Twist – white teenagers, kids in Latin
America – making its way into songs and movies.
Through social dance, the
boundaries between groups become blurred. The story continues in the 1980s and
'90s. Along with the emergence of hip-hop, African-American social dance took
on even more visibility, borrowing from its long past, shaping culture and
being shaped by it. Today, these dances continue to evolve, grow and spread.
Why do we dance? To
move, to let loose, to express. Why do we dance together? To heal, to remember,
to say: "We speak a common language. We exist and we are free."
Source: TED Ed – By
Camille A. Brown