From voguing to Tik Tok dance trends, many of our favorite dances originate from African dances. Black Africans brought their dances to North, Central and South America, and the Caribbean Islands starting in the 1500s. Tribal dances from West Africa morphed into “step” dances as they merged with white dances. Dance has always been an integral part of daily life in Africa. It helped enslaved Africans connect with their homeland keeping their cultural traditions alive. Before enslavement, Africans danced for many special occasions, such as births, marriage, or as part of their daily activities, dance affirmed life and the outlook of the future. After the Middle Passage, Africans in the Americas sang and danced while working as slaves, and as they converted to the religions of white-Europeans and Indigenous people, they incorporated these traditions into these cultures. Tho who were forced to work in the colonies of Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and South America were given more freedom to dance than those in North America, but they managed to find ways around dance restrictions. In 1891, The Creole Show, a revue staged on Broadway introduced The Cakewalk, the first American dance created by Black people to become popular with the whites. During the Harlem Renaissance, innovations in theater, music, literature, and other arts accompanied African American developments in dance (AAREG). Several, 20th century Black American choreographers established the groundwork for choreographers whose work references African, African-American, and Afro-Caribbean traditions. Ballroom culture, created by transgender Black women and queer Black folks since the early '80s has also been the foundation of mainstream dance, and fashion for ages. There are many different categories in ballrooms such as dancers, who will often “vogue,” which was a turning point for ballroom culture when Madonna used voguing in her legendary Vogue music video. The publicity from Madonna's music video bought ballroom culture into a larger platform amongst cis-hetero, and mostly straight white audience, changing the way modern dancers move, and even how models walk the runways in the '80s. When we talk about Black culture it's important to acknowledge that majority of Black culture comes from trans Black women are the blueprint and are always at the forefront of culture, our movements, and everything when it comes to fighting for our community. Without specifically trans-Black women, and queer Black folks in general, there would be no culture without them.
Iconic Black Dancers
Master Juba (who was legally named William Henry Lane) was the first known dancer to combine quick footwork with traditional African rhythms, leading to the creation of tap dance and even elements of step dancing.
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, known as the father of tap dance, but is most famous for his appearance in the widely popular movies starring Shirley Temple. In his career, Robinson appeared in a total of 14 films and six Broadway shows, sometimes in prominent roles – an enormous triumph for a black actor in his day. Robinson was the first black solo performer to star on white vaudeville circuits, where he was a headliner for four decades.
Some dance historians have named Katherine Dunham the most important women of African American dance. Dunham was one of the first modern dance pioneers in her own right, combining cultural, grounded dance movements with elements of ballet.
Pearl Primus, born in Trinidad and immigrated to New York, is the first African American modern dancer. Throughout the 1940s Pearl incorporated Caribbean and West African dance styles to create her own style of dance, introducing traditional African dance to the stage.
Click here to learn about more iconic Black Dancers who changed the norms and paved the way for other Black creatives, and looked badass while doing it.