With its origins in the dances of traditional West African and central West African village communities, and having survived through two and a half centuries of human enslavement in mainland North America, by the 1890s African American dance had proliferated into numerous distinguishable forms, sacred and secular, social and theatrical. In the early twenty-first century the theatrical branch, which originated primarily as an entertainment form, was also an artistic genre. With some of its roots in the traveling tent shows, gillies, and early vaudeville, through its uneasy and...
With its origins in the dances of traditional West African and central West African village communities, and having survived through two and a half centuries of human enslavement in mainland North America, by the 1890s African American dance had proliferated into numerous distinguishable forms, sacred and secular, social and theatrical. In the early twenty-first century the theatrical branch, which originated primarily as an entertainment form, was also an artistic genre. With some of its roots in the traveling tent shows, gillies, and early vaudeville, through its uneasy and distressful relationship with minstrelsy, African American dance as performance art refined both the plantation cakewalk and the tap dance, along with the cyclical social dances, into high-culture performance idioms.Concert Dance.Between the 1890s and the emergence of African American concert theater dance in the 1930s, black dancers performed largely in clubs and in all-black musical revues such as A Trip to Coontown (1898), Shuffle Along (1921), Runnin' Wild (1923), and Blackbirds of 1928. Dancers such as Josephine Baker, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Florence Mills, and John Bubbles came to prominence performing in such venues. None of them shifted into concert dance.Though black entertainers such as William Henry Lane, known also as Master Juba, performed on the stage in concert style, scholars generally locate the formal beginnings of blacks in modern dance or concert dance with Hemsley Winfield in New York in the late 1920s. Modern dance was a new theatrical form that began at the turn of the twentieth century with the dancers Loie Fuller and Isadora Duncan and the early Denishawn Company. Influenced by the dominant African American cultural theme of the period, the New Negro, in 1931 Winfield organized a group of eighteen dancers that became known as the New Negro Art Dancers. They gave what was billed as “the first Negro dance recital in America” with two African-inspired solos by Winfield's assistant, Edna Guy, a former Denishawn student. Six years earlier, in 1925, the Creative Dance Group of Virginia's Hampton Institute, under the directorship of Charles H. Williams and Charlotte M. Kennedy, had given its first off-campus concert performance in Richmond, Virginia. It was not until 1937 that the American Negro Ballet, organized in 1934 and directed by Baron Eugene Von Grona, premiered.The appearance of African Americans in concert dance reflected and coincided with broad demographic and social changes, as well as with changes in the attitude of blacks nationwide. Black migration away from the rural South and northward into large urban areas located blacks in new urban industrial forms of work and gave them access to a new environment that enabled them in turn to create a new culture. African and African American dancing was featured in a number of large-scale theatrical productions around the country. The largest and most spectacular of the period was Tom-Tom, produced in 1932 in Cleveland, Ohio, which was the home of the famous Karamu House Dance Company. Writing both the libretto and the music for Tom-Tom, Shirley Graham, the future wife of the scholar and activist W. E. B. Du Bois, produced this three-act, sixteen-scene opera with nearly five hundred performers. This opera challenged the existing negative image of African culture and—like the dance opera Kykunkor, written by Asadata Dafora and produced by him in New York in 1934—was of national importance.Until the appearance of modern concert dance, social and vernacular dance figured prominently in both source material and choreography for African American performers. In spite of the restrictive atmosphere of the prevailing white supremacy—which generally barred African American access to high-level studio dance training—blacks excelled at professional dancing. A limited number of black youths, such as Helena de Arms St. Just, who trained in Scandinavia, were able to receive training when their vaudevillian parents toured foreign countries. Others studied with dance instructors who had immigrated to the United States from Europe; still others passed as white, enrolled in classes, and brought their training back to their black communities.Dafora moved to New York in 1929 after studying music in Europe. He used traditional African material in writing Kykunkor, and the result has been described as lavish, colorful, and exciting. Like many black artists of the era, Dafora viewed art as a way to challenge the unfounded negative racial assumptions, myths, and stereotypes about blacks inherited from vaudeville. Kykunkor challenged and debunked those myths with great success, as did Dafora's second production, Zunguru, in 1938. Having received positive reviews from critics considered normally harsh, such as John Martin, Lincoln Kirstein, and Arthur Todd, Dafora's production of Kykunkor was so influential that it opened doors for blacks in concert dance and for those exploring African heritage materials in their choreography. Dafora's influence prompted the Federal Theatre Project to organize an African unit that produced dance dramas using African material. The legacy of Dafora's use of traditional African themes and materials can be seen in latter-day African American companies such as Arthur Hall's Afro-American Dance Ensemble, Chuck Davis's dance company, Melvin Deal's African Heritage Dancers, and the Ko-Thi Dance Company, among others, as well as in the African dance extravaganza at the Brooklyn Academy of Music known as “Dance Africa.”Dunham and PrimusIn 1937 a program at the Young Men's Hebrew Association entitled “A Negro Dance Evening” brought together on one stage Guy, Dafora, Talley Beatty, and Katherine Dunham, then a twenty-eight-year-old dancer. Dunham later pioneered a revolutionary dance technique. Trained in anthropology, she brought authentic Caribbean- and African-derived dance material to the stage. Both Dunham's seminal technique and her company inspired dancers and provided a conduit through which black concert dance could achieve parity with mainstream concert dance performance.Dunham's company—first the Ballet Nègre, then the Negro Dance Group, later called the Katherine Dunham Company—was revolutionary on other fronts as well. Challenging the strict racial covenants and segregation of the era, the Dunham company was both racially integrated and socially conscious, practices that led to the harassment and arrest of Dunham and of others in her company. Nevertheless the company influenced performers as diverse as the Oscar winner Marlon Brando, who received his basic dance and drum training from the company, and the actress and singer Eartha Kitt, who started her professional life as a company member.Like Dunham, the dancer and choreographer Pearl Primus was an important pioneer in African American concert dance. Also like Dunham, Primus was trained in anthropology, which enabled her to use material gathered in her studies in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Black Belt of the American South. Like that of other dancers and artists of the period, Primus's art challenged and helped to redefine the public perception and understanding of black cultural life.Starting with a dance scholarship at the school of the New Dance Group, Primus developed a lifelong interest in so-called primitive dance forms. She embarked on research that eventually led to her traveling to gather data and source material. In 1954, while studying the dance of the Caribbean, she met and married the dancer and director of his own company Percival Borde. They collaborated on works that influenced dance students for decades to come.Katherine Dunham Dancers. Shown in midair during a rehearsal in New York, 1946. AP ImagesAlvin AileyContinuing the drive for social justice through the use of dance, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, founded in 1958 in the harsh anticommunist atmosphere of waning McCarthyism, further opened the door for blacks, particularly in the modern dance theater. Early in modern dance, and prior to the establishment of the Ailey company, some white companies—such as those of Martha Graham and Lester Horton, in which Ailey studied and performed—enlisted an occasional “Negro” dancer of outstanding quality. Ailey's company was racially integrated, and it provided additional opportunities for both dancers and choreographers previously limited by the highly restricted and racially exclusionary artistic environment of the times. His company's challenging presence set a new aesthetic, technical, and social standard in modern dance that further weakened the dictatorship of American white supremacy in the field. With the arrival of the new medium of television, the Ailey company received wider exposure than earlier companies had.Ailey's appearance on the stage was inadvertently well timed. With a complex national and international backdrop of declining McCarthyism, the African American civil rights struggle, African independence movements, and the nascent Cold War, Ailey and his company became internationally known performing ambassadors representing the United States. They performed in more than fifty countries in the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Asia, and they were the first American modern dance company to perform in the Soviet Union.The Ailey company's style derives from its use of European classical thematic material and material from the black experience integrated with a range of established dance techniques. Using technical material from Dunham, Horton, and Graham, along with material from jazz dance, classical ballet, and the Caribbean, traditional African, and folk cultures, the company has developed its own performance style. Both Ailey and his company received countless national and international awards. They include the prestigious Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, first prize at the Paris International Dance Festival, the New York Mayor's Award for Arts and Culture, the American Dance Festival's Samuel Scripps Award, and Kennedy Center honors.After Ailey's death in 1989, the company continued under the direction of the former company member Judith Jamison, for whom Ailey had created the dance piece Cry (1971). This piece became identified with Jamison, and the suite of which it was a part, Revelations, became known as the signature piece of the company.Arthur Mitchell and balletWhile the Ailey company was breaking ground in modern dance, the young dancer Arthur Mitchell was challenging the highly restrictive racial policies of ballet. More racially restrictive than modern dance, ballet posed both the greatest limitation and the greatest challenge to African Americans pursuing a career in concert dance. Objections to blacks in ballet were widely held and freely expressed. Reviewers, dance critics, dancers, and choreographers held the long-standing belief that blacks were somehow better suited to other types of dance. Others objected to what they perceived as a disruption of the aesthetic of the “white ballet,” or ballet blanc, by the color contrast created by the darker skin of African Americans, particularly in an all-white corps de ballet. This and more confronted Mitchell as he sought to provide a vehicle for blacks to enter the ballet theater.After years of rigorous training and years of confronting racial exclusion, Mitchell, who secured a position as a member of George Balanchine's New York City Ballet, became the first African American to establish himself permanently in ballet. Mitchell, like many other African American artists, saw his art as a way to address racial injustice. When Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, Mitchell responded by using the murder as the inspiration to found the Dance Theatre of Harlem and its dance school. Beginning with only two teachers and fewer than three dozen students, both the school and the performing company quickly grew from their modest beginnings to a world-class enterprise with international acclaim and recognition. Dancing briefly in Truman Capote's House of Flowers, the same piece in which Ailey had made his Broadway debut, Mitchell has danced in many roles that have made him famous, including as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream and his famous pas de deux in Agon.Other dance companiesWith the doors to concert theater dance opened by courageous, persevering, and hard-working pioneers, the number of predominantly black and racially integrated dance companies, large and small, grew. Companies appeared under the choreographic directions of Donald McKayle, whose classic Games was performed in 1952; Rod Rodgers; Eleo Pomare; Gus Solomons; Fred Benjamin; Charles Moore; Garth Fagan, with the Bucket Dance Theater; Blondell Cummings; Diane McIntyre, with Sounds in Motion; and Renee Harris. Smaller and less significant, but still influential, companies, essential to bringing dance training and performance opportunities to young people outside New York City, include the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company of Dayton, Ohio; Cleo Parker Robinson's Dance Ensemble of Denver, Colorado; Philandanco of Philadelphia; and the Karamu House Dance Company of Cleveland.Social and Vernacular Dance.Although it was necessary to eliminate the racial restrictions to concert theater dance in order for blacks to perform in that field, African American social dance, the nontheatrical dancing done by untrained, ordinary people in their daily lives had no such restrictions except exclusion from white dance halls and ballrooms. The period following Reconstruction tested African American socioeconomic, cultural, and political survival. The dance forms that accompanied plantation life before the Civil War were forged from earlier African and European dances. Two of those forms, the line (or square) dance and the circle, made the transition into the twentieth century and became the wellspring from which dances performed for more than a century and a half were created.As blacks migrated to northern urban areas, taking their dances with them, the older plantation square-dance form, with its African American–invented tradition of “calling” the next step—known as “calling the figgers”—found its greatest urbanized expression for more than a century in the called line dances of black communities. The circle formation, which had evolved from the sacred African “ring shout” dance ritual, evolved further into both sacred and secular forms. The ring shout had been practiced throughout the slave territory of the South, and in the early twenty-first century it continued to be practiced on the so-called Gullah Coast of South Carolina and, in modified form, in Sanctified churches.The Big Apple, believed to be derived from a secular form of the ring shout, was the basis for an early national dance craze of the twentieth century, having crossed into mainstream American culture in the 1930s, reflecting black migration north, particularly to New York. With its high arm gestures, counterclockwise circle formation, and called changes, the Big Apple combined elements from both line (square) and circle plantation dance forms.The cakewalk and the CharlestonEven before the Big Apple, mainstream America had assimilated other black dances that crossed into white American popular social dancing. Two important and influential dances preceded the Big Apple and paved the way for a series of dance crazes that swept the country: the cakewalk and the Charleston. Sometimes confused with its parent form, an older plantation dance competition form called the “chalk-line walk” that tested balance, agility, endurance, and dramatic mimicry, the cakewalk was introduced to the white public in the 1898 production of the musical play Clorindy, or The Origin of the Cakewalk. The cakewalk, which had been performed in several other productions prior to Clorindy, originated on the plantation and later took on special significance for two forms of American popular theater, vaudeville and minstrelsy. It was the first African American dance to attain international fame. Its basic crossover step went on to become both the Mummers' Strut, performed in Philadelphia's New Year's Day parade, and the so-called jazz square, a fundamental step in the vocabularies of both the jazz dance and the theater movement. Both the older plantation forms of the dance and the newer, theatricalized versions overlapped and at times existed simultaneously, cross-fertilizing each other.Former slaves who lived through the cakewalk's transition from folk dance to theatrical entertainment often spoke of “pitchin' hay” or “shuckin' corn” as embellishments to the older plantation form. In the theatrical form, the social significance of the pantomime and the short-story vignette qualities embodied in much of the movement was eliminated. Remaining references to black life and labor relationships were also eventually laid aside as the dance became popular in mainstream America and was danced by whites. The older plantation cakewalk functioned as an expression of derision. It ridiculed elite whites and commented on the socioeconomic position and power of slave owners. The cakewalk's elevated, erect postures and high kicks reflected European influences and at the same time resembled the postures and gestures used in a number of dances from the Senegambian region of West Africa, including the dances known as the sabar and the lamda.Shortly after the cakewalk, the Charleston swept America. Believed to have been named for the city of Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston was introduced to the white public through the 1923 Broadway show Runnin' Wild. The basic step has been traced to the area of Sierra Leone and has also been observed in other areas of West Africa. Like the cakewalk, having survived American slavery the Charleston appeared in mainstream American culture when blacks migrated north.Also like the cakewalk the Charleston fueled and enriched American popular culture, dance, theater, music, movies, literature, and, later, television and the Internet. The Charleston gained international popularity. As performed in the African American community, the Charleston retained many of the qualities of the African pantomime that were later discarded as the mainstream adaptation of the dance gained prominence. The Charleston reached its peak popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, and its basic step reappeared in black communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the Mashed Potato and in the early forms of the Lindy Hop.The LindyThe Lindy—also known as the jitterbug, the hand dance, the bop, the Carolina shag, and Chicago steppin'—eclipsed all other dances in defining the American national cultural character. It evolved from the old African American dance the Texas Tommy, and it appeared in the mainstream culture at the same time that the Charleston did. It was embraced across ethnic, class, and regional lines, and it persisted cyclically. The Lindy was a staple in American popular dance.The Lindy, considered an amalgamated dance form, evolved from the older partnered segments of contra dancing and square dancing and was influenced by turn-of-the-century ballroom dancing. As with several other dances, the Lindy entered the mainstream when African Americans migrated north, taking it with them. The African Americans who migrated west, who were primarily from Texas and Louisiana, took the dance to California, where it gained fame and popularity in San Francisco as the Texas Tommy. The Texas Tommy was the bridge between the older, plantation, partnered dance segments and the new Lindy. As the Lindy developed among blacks living east of the Mississippi River, particularly in urban ballrooms of the North, it became more complex and sophisticated, often reaching new athletic heights and adding complicated embellishments and subtleties in a segment known as the “breakaway.” In the breakaway the dance partners released contact with each other and performed individualized improvisations and pantomimes known as “apart dancing.” A similar breakaway was performed in the old Texas Tommy, but in that form with less athletic emphasis.By the 1930s the Lindy had achieved status as a dance craze. Like other black dances before it, the Lindy was embraced by mainstream white America as its national dance. It gained unparalleled international fame; in Europe it was “that American dance.” It dominated the mainstream social-dancing scene in the United States through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s and prompted a number of dancers to go professional with it and to start dance companies based on it. Al Minns, Leon James, Ann Johnson, Norma Miller, Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, and the incomparable Frankie Manning all performed the Lindy with artistic brilliance and complex refinement.Though the Lindy dominated the mainstream popular dance scene, in African American communities, at black-owned dance venues, and at white-owned dance halls and ballrooms on the one night a week—usually Monday—when blacks were allowed in, blacks during this period performed many dances that retained separate developmental paths and never crossed over—dances such as the Shimmy, the Snake Hips, the Horse, the Junkanu, the Dog, and the Slop, among others. Still, a few dances, such as the Turkey Trot and the Black Bottom, experienced limited mainstream exposure and crossover appeal. Especially popular with younger adults, these dances were sometimes the targets of outright racist attacks and marginally successful campaigns seeking to ban them.Dancing the Lindy. Woman dancing the Lindy, also known as the jitterbug, at a juke joint in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on a Saturday afternoon in November 1939. Photograph by Marion Post Wolcott. Farm Security Administration–Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of CongressThe 1960s. The decade of the 1960s ushered in changes that challenged both the cultural and the political status quo. The backdrop of the Cold War and the civil rights struggle, along with relative economic security, functioned to focus both international and national attention on blacks, their lives, and their culture. Yet another dance craze seized the mind, muscle, and rhythm of the nation: the white mainstream culture discovered the twist. Originating on southern plantations, the predecessor known as “ringin' ’n’ twistin’ ” used leg movements that could be observed in the early twenty-first century in traditional West African dance. Like many other popular dances, the twist was carried north by migrating blacks. The dance's name appeared in both the titles and the lyrics of numerous blues songs. In 1958 Hank Ballard and the Midnighters recorded his blues-based, gospel-tinged original version of the song “The Twist.” But it was not until Chubby Checker recorded the song in 1960 and again in 1962 that the song and its related dance became widely known to the American social dancing public. The twist was so popular that it was danced at President John F. Kennedy's inauguration gala, and like the cakewalk, the Charleston, and the Lindy, the twist achieved international popularity.As performed in black communities, the basic step of the twist could be observed as an embellishment both in the cakewalk and in the breakaway sections of the Lindy. As in the previous dance crazes, when the step went on to become its own dance, particularly as it was embraced by the mainstream white public, the twist laid aside the old pantomimes and commentaries observed in its original form.In African American communities the twist existed simultaneously with other “apart dances” such as the Pony, the Horse, the Strand, the Shing-a-ling, the Hucklebuck, the Jerk, the Waddle, and the Toilet Stool, whose basic hip swaying and rocking from side to side reappeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s as the dance the Rock. The apart dances were like vessels containing much of the African American dance vocabulary. The movement in these dances could be reorganized and recombined to create new dances. Maintaining a cyclical existence, the dances hibernated and reappeared in subsequent generations as a “new” dance. Sometimes a recycled version of an original black dance crossed over into mainstream popular social dancing and became nearly unrecognizable. This was the case with the Jerk.During the 1960s the Jerk could be observed in public venues known as discotheques, forerunners of contemporary “discos.” Discotheques hired young women as go-go dancers. The pioneer go-go girls wore short dresses, often with large geometric print patterns, and knee-high boots, and they sported long straight hair. They were frequently perched in cages above the dance floor and bar. The Jerk, as it appeared in black communities, was originally a slow apart dance done to slow music. Unlike couples in the “slow drag”—a slow couples dance with full-body contact that was prominent in black culture even in the early twenty-first century—couples dancing the Jerk did not touch their partners; it was truly an apart dance.Accelerating the cross-fertilization and spread of black dances, the new medium of television, which entered the average American home in the mid-1950s, brought African American dances directly into the nation's living rooms. Whites-only shows such as Philadelphia's Bandstand, which later integrated; Alan Freed's Big Beat from New York, which was racially integrated; the all-black dance show from Washington, D.C., The Teenarama Dance Party; and later shows such as Shindig, Hollywood a Go-Go, and Hullabaloo all reached people wherever there was a television set.In the culturally turbulent 1960s, the hand dance, the apart dances, and other dance styles existed simultaneously and with overlapping influences. Another dance style was the line dance. Its prominence persisted in African American culture after its popular appeal waned in the mainstream. Three popular line dances—the Madison, the Stroll, and the Continental—crossed over into mainstream popularity in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Stroll used the double line formation, one line of women and one line of men facing each other. The line dance became even better known to a new generation thanks to its mid-1960s revival on the first nationally televised black dance show, Soul Train. And like their progenitors the African and hybridized American country dances, some line dances were still “called.”The 1970s and Later.Appearing in the late 1980s and lasting into the early twenty-first century, a new African American line dance appeared that stimulated the public emergence of “country” line dancing among whites: the Electric Slide. Popularized in a song by the Jamaican-born vocalist Marsha Griffiths, a former Bob Marley backup singer and one of the I-Threes, the Electric Slide organized dancers into a mass of moving bodies rather than a rigidly adhered-to line formation. The Electric Slide used simple movements, no calls, and one fairly simple syncopated, off-rhythm quarter turn to organize the dance. The Electric Slide stimulated the appearance of a number of line dances, including the Foxy Lady and the Cha-Cha Slide, which was called, as its plantation predecessors had been.Beginning in the 1970s a short-lived wave of hand-dance hybrids briefly swept the country. Born of the fading discotheques of the late 1960s, “disco dancing” came to include apart dances of the late 1970s such as the Rock. Cross-fertilized by the Spanish Caribbean's partner dancing—particularly Puerto Rican salsa dancing, which was becoming more visible to the American mainstream—the dance known as the Hustle swept the country. Sometimes called the Latin Hustle, this partnered dance was characterized by swift steps and rapid turns with an elegance and flair that was not required in the strongly stated steps and turns and the breakaway and partnering themes of the jitterbug. The Hustle had no breakaway section for individual improvisation, and its overall tone and posture were of “proximal anonymity,” or distant closeness. Disco dancing was featured and popularized in films of the period, including the popular Saturday Night Fever.Beginning in the mid-1970s against a socioeconomic and cultural backdrop of deindustrialization, increasing unemployment, destruction of black communities, family dissolution, and so-called social dislocation, a new genre of popular performance known as hip hop appeared on the cultural scene. Hip hop included clothing styles, specialized vocabulary, graffiti writing and underground public art, rappin', rap music, and a specific type of dancing. Though hip hop is believed to have first appeared in fully developed form among displaced urban African American and West Indian male youths in poverty-crushed neighborhoods of the South Bronx in New York, elements of the hip-hop dance style were observed earlier in black communities of the industrial Midwest, the South, and the West Coast. Coalescing in the appearance of the new “break dancing,” elements such as “pop locking,” freezing, and dancing solo were observed in earlier African American dances, though not as dominant themes or even as strongly stated ones.With a visible Caribbean influence, break dancing was unlike any other social dance form to emerge in America. In “breaking,” as the dance was also known, dancers, primarily males, challenged each other to a duel of dance dexterity and innovation that valued both mimetic play, such as waving, pop locking, and “moonwalking,” and acrobatic ability, as demonstrated in head spins, hand spins, shoulder spins, and flips.Many of break dancing's most dynamic moves resembled African American dances from an earlier period. Moonwalking, a mimetic dance move in which the dancer glides across the floor backward while appearing to walk forward, closely resembled the Creep, a popular African American dance of the middle to late 1950s and early 1960s. Waving and pop locking used movements and coordination similar to that found in Earl Tucker's Snake Hips nearly a half century earlier.As hip hop became better known, its athleticism and themes of competition were modified and somewhat downplayed to shape the dance for consumption in public dance venues. Still, hip-hop dance was unlike any previously existing African American dance in one major respect: its clearly stated withdrawal from the traditional partnering ritual. In all previously existing African American social dance forms, including many line dances, a partnered couple of a man and a woman formed the basic unit of the dance. Sometimes the partners touched each other, as in the Lindy, and sometimes they did not, as in the apart dances, but they always established a partnering relationship. Break dancing supports, encourages, and is built on the male withdrawal from the traditional male–female partnering ritual.In the latter half of the twentieth century, changes in music accompanied the dramatic changes in dance. The rock-and-roll music that launched the decade of the 1950s was supplanted by a new sound issuing from Detroit, Michigan, the Motor City. Mixing the older rhythm-and-blues vocal styles with orchestration and creating a more lyrical style, Motown provided the musical backdrop for the 1960s. Motown artists enjoyed a larger and more diverse crossover audience than did either the earlier blues or rhythm-and-blues artists who recorded on the old “race records” labels. The dance routines of the Motown greats exhibited both grace and sophistication in their expert choreography, crafted largely by the tap-dancing giant Cholly Atkins of the famous tap team of Coles and Atkins. Motown choreography demonstrated black dance styles for all America to see and to imitate. Motown's sound and the similar rhythm-and-blues music was supplanted by hip hop, which has been the dominant force in music and dance since the 1980s.The new mass-media format known as MTV presented the new rap music and introduced a wider viewing public to a commercially crafted vision of highly sexualized, truncated dance gestures. Dance has been an important accompaniment both to live hip-hop performances and to video-recorded hip-hop music.African American dance and music has had a tremendous impact on the formation of the uniquely American culture. Its influence has extended to ballet, modern dance, and Olympic gymnastic and figure-skating routines, giving them all a new lease on life and a new source of creative materials and energies. Responding to the popularity of hip hop, the mass-market media has made extensive use of black dance in its campaigns to sell products. Food, cars, soap, laxatives, hair products, deodorants, and numerous other items all use black dance and movement styles to increase sales and profits.In the early twenty-first century, America's white youth in particular continued to seize on black popular dance as a way to express their own uniqueness and to give voice to their generation, a process that their parents and grandparents engaged in decades earlier in both the era of the flapper and the era of rock and roll. Where African American dance will find itself later in the twenty-first century remains to be seen. The culture-creating mechanisms are always actively producing new dances, such as the early-twenty-first-century “Woo-tang.” One hopes that African American dance will continue to thrive—that it will remain vibrant, and its creators able to enjoy some of the cultural greatness that it has helped to generate for America.
Reference Entry. 5387 words. Illustrated.
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