The Influence of African Dance on American Dance

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Many characteristics of African dance have contributed to the dances and styles in America. This started when Africans were sent to North America starting in the 1600’s to work as slaves. The slave trade did not allow Africans to bring possessions, so all that they brought with them was their culture. Once the Africans arrived in America, and settled on the plantations, dance was one of the ways they were able to remember their home, family, and where they came from. Dance became a form of entertainment for themselves and their masters. It contained elements and music that they brought with them from Africa. In addition, African dance went on to influence many popular American dances and styles. Dances that originated in African-American communities spread first to the nation and then to the world—like the Cakewalk, Turkey Trot, Charleston, and the Lindy Hop (a.k.a. Jitterbug, Jive). With the commercial export of American pop culture to the world, especially after the 1920s, American dance has become the most influential. (1) As such, American dance would not be what it is today, without the contributions from the Africans. The cakewalk, originally known as the chalk line walk, was a popular American dance that originated on southern plantations, where slave owners would hold dance competitions between slaves. The master would hold the competition at his house on the plantation and would serve as the judge. The name “cakewalk” was derived from the competition prize- a cake. Couples would compete and their masters would award a cake to the winning couple. The funny thing is that slave cakewalkers would make fun of their masters and mistresses through this dance. They imitated the Europeanist aesthetic of the plantation owners by strutting with their shoulders and torsos tilted backward while kicking their feet forward. Plantation owners did not realize that they

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