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Brenda Dixon Gottschild

Originated by enslaved Africans living on Caribbean and North American plantations, the cakewalk was a festive dance for which the best executor received a cake as the prize. Dances were witnessed and judged by plantation owners, and slaves were taken from plantation to plantation to compete in the contests. The dance consisted of “a kind of shuffling movement which evolved into a smooth walking step with the body held erect. The backward sway was added, and as the dance became more of a satire on the dance of the white plantation owners, the movement became a prancing strut” (Emery, 1972).

Because of its theatricality, the cakewalk lent itself to the stage. As an all-male, noncouple dance, it was a regular feature in the minstrel show finale and remained a staple of the popular stage thereafter. By the 1890s it was introduced into productions of Uncle Tom's Cabin to enliven ...


A syncopated strutting male dance of African American origin popular in the US during the 19th century It was widely performed by slaves for the entertainment of their owners and derived its name from the fact that a piece of cake would be given as a reward to the dancer ...


Jan Michael Hanvik

The vivid and diverse dances of the Caribbean are both influential and popular in the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Caribbean countries and island territories sustaining strong, viable dance in the twentieth century include Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Martinique, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, the Bahamas, and Jamaica, as well as the coastal regions of such Caribbeanrim nations as Colombia, Venezuela, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and the United States.

The study of dance in the region is inseparable from the issue of migration European colonizers entered the Caribbean at the end of the fifteenth century at that time Native American peoples had lived on the islands and along the coasts for thousands of years After missionizing colonizing and losing most of them to overwork and epidemics African slaves were forcibly transported to the Caribbean by European slave traders until the nineteenth century Slaves escaping island conditions immigrated to the coastal mainland ...



Henry Frank

In the West Indies, the Republic of Haiti occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which was discovered by the 1492 expedition of Christopher Columbus. The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern side, and both were originally part of the Spanish colonial empire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when sugar plantations were established and slaves transported from Africa as laborers. France took the island from Spain in 1697, transporting additional slaves from Africa to work the sugar and coffee plantations. In the 1780s rebellions and an ensuing class war among blacks, mulattos, and Haitians resulted in invasions by French and British troops. In 1801, the former slave Toussaint L'Ouvature conquered the entire island and abolished slavery; Haiti became the second independent nation in the Americas in 1804 (after the United States). Ruled by self-styled presidents and emperors until 1859 it lost eastern ...



Rex Nettleford

A West Indies island republic of some 3 million people lying south of Cuba and west of Haiti in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica has a traditional economy based on sugar plantations and mining. Sighted by the 1494 expedition of Christopher Columbus, it was settled by the Spanish in 1509. The Arawak people, who had lived there for thousands of years, fought the Spanish, fled, and died in great numbers from epidemics. Britain captured the island in 1655, and it became a part of the British Empire in 1670. In the 1700s, slaves from Africa were transported as laborers. After Jamaica's 1838 abolition of slavery, the sugar market declined, leading to economic harship, civil unrest, and British government suppression of local autonomy. Rebellions by Jamaican blacks then occurred periodically because of their poverty and Britain's racial policies. In 1944 the vote was granted to all adults ...


Graeme Boone and James Sellman

The roots of the jook joint—a distinctly African American place for music, dancing, and socializing—reach back well before the Civil War (1861–1865) to the era of slavery. For slaves, free time and free space were transitory, rare, and surrounded in secrecy. In his autobiography, Tom Fletcher, an entertainer born in the late nineteenth century, recalled stories of such gatherings that he had heard when he was a boy: “[T]he slaves couldn't just come right out and say they were going to have a party or even a religious gathering. … [They] would use some kind of a signal … and one of the main code songs was the spiritual ‘Steal Away’. … The steal away gatherings sometimes were religious services. … Other times they were … good time parties.”

In such an environment to steal away and dance make music or pray together meant more than ...


Cuban ethnomusicologist Fernando Ortiz wrote that the word bamba means “a lucky move,” and “success obtained without working,” tracing its origins to a similar word— mbamba—from the Congo, meaning “play”. Bamba has also been traced to the Gabonese word bumbua, which means “to do something with improvisation, without preparing to do it.” African elements were introduced into the dance by enslaved Africans who worked the haciendas (large estates) in Mexico. African influence was particularly high in the urban areas, such as Mexico City, Puebla, and the port city of Veracruz, where Afro-Mexicans taught music and dancing, and where the dance reportedly originated.

“La Bamba” is also the name of a popular song, performed in a traditional Mexican musical genre called huapango—a complex mix of Spanish melodic influences that integrates Amerindian and African cross-rhythms. As for its etymological origins, huapango may have derived from a ...


Jeffrey Green

Musical and humorous entertainment style popular from about 1850 to 1970. The entertainers blacked up, a grotesque parody of black Americans in the Southern slave states. When African‐descent entertainers participated, they too wore burnt‐cork make‐up. Minstrel shows were musical, vibrant, amusing, and capable of swiftly adapting to new circumstances.

Most societies have entertainers who use masks and gaudy clothes, speak with false accents, dance in exaggerated ways, and play musical instruments with visible enthusiasm. The minstrel show did all these. A minstrel show was a self‐contained entertainment.

Minstrelsy originated in the United States, where it once showed both the evils of slavery and the allegedly happy plantation slave. The best‐selling anti‐slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin added dramatic elements; then Negro spirituals, brought to England by the Fisk Jubilee Singers from 1871 added songs including Go Down Moses and Steal Away to Jesus Costumes ranged from ragged hand me ...


Peter Hudson

Tap dance originated in the cross-fertilization of African and Anglo-European cultures in the Americas. During the 1600s the social dances of Irish and Scottish indentured laborers were fused with African juba and ring dances. Slaves in the southern United States imitated the rapid toe and heel action of the Irish jig and the percussive sensibility of the Lancashire clog, danced in wooden shoes. Combined with West African body movements and rhythms, these new dances were the forerunners of the buck-and-wing dancing and clogging of the southern United States and of modern-day tap dancing.

The names of the innovators from the early slave community went unrecorded. When the slave dances were adapted theatrically for minstrel shows in the late 1820s, individual artists began to be recognized. However, the first of these performers were black-faced white minstrels. William Henry Lane was the first African American to rise to prominence on the ...