The history of African-American social dance – Camille A. Brown

The history of African-American social dance – Camille A. Brown


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. In African-American 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. (Clapping) 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
with drums in Haiti 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 legs. 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.”