The last week of Black History Month; A look into Black history and Dance
Updated: May 16, 2021
Dance is an ever changing art form, it has been around since the beginning of humanity and will most likely continue in the generations to come. And like humanity, dance evolves taking on new trends and styles. While dance holds inclusivity at its forefront, it is apparent to acknowledge and celebrate its rich history which includes many different cultures and traditions, which over time, have been introduced and interpreted to some staple moves you see and love today. This article will take a look into the history of dance as well as its modern context allowing us to see just how impactful black history is. Many African cultures and traditions have been a historic front to the evolution of dance. With many modern dances taking on influence from traditional movement, what the dance world has come to see is the way in which black cultures hold a foundation to the entertainment industry, and in specificity -- dance. Though this article is not like others previously shown on STU Arts Dance, we find it not only important to discuss, but to also celebrate the narrative that brought us modern dance.
A brief history in time
It is important to mention how and when the beginning impacts of both Black history and dance occurred, and in order to do that, it is important to mention the impact of dance with the association of slavery and its adaptation over time. Black Africans brought their culture and history with them to North and Central America as well as the Caribbean Islands as slave labour started emerging in the 1500’s. “In the West the dance styles of hundreds of Black ethnic groups merged with white dances forming the extension of African aesthetic[s] in the Americas.” The slave trade imported with it many cultures and traditions while in the Caribbean and the plantation regions of the mainland; this created a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures that influenced dances from Africa. “Dance has always been an integral part of daily life in Africa. In the Americas, it helped enslaved Africans connect with their homeland keeping their cultural traditions alive;” It was with this that tribal dances remained to be as important to enslaved Africans, dances such as the Calenda which featured 2 lines parallel to one another making up of women on one side and men on the other. The dance consisted of approaching the opposite line without touching, then made its way to thigh-slapping, kissing and other forms of contact. The dance by nature creates some form of alarm due to its loud and confident moves. Naturally, plantation owners were opposed and the dance was eventually banned in some areas. However, the Calenda in addition to many other dances such as the gumboot would go on to inspire other dances such as the Cakewalk and eventually the Charleston in the 20th Century; which engages in high-stepping energy of more traditional dances. Among other dance forms in the African diaspora contributed to the evolution of Stepping in America. This would then go on to arguably inspire the creation of Stepping in America.
The modernization of African American Dancing and its impact
While it may not seem like traditional African dances are implemented in modern entertainment, society should give credit where credit is due. A prominent example is to look towards the Queen herself—Beyoncé. Her award winning songs “Spirit” and “Bigger” profoundly included a performance of African dance towards the end of the video. She goes on to mention that “the soundtrack is a love letter to Africa and I wanted to make sure we found the best talent from Africa and not just to use some of the sounds and do my interpretation of it. I wanted to be authentic to what is beautiful about the music in Africa.”
In addition to Beyoncé, many artists give homage to African Dances in modern context, American artist Childish Gambino does so in a not-so-subtle light with his hit song “This is America.” His moves bring tension, and while “these are not dances with deep spiritual meanings, they’re the most prolific forms of creative expression for young Africans right now.” Gambino’s modern style which references urban dancing took massive inspiration from the Black community and this style, amongst others, bleed through the entertainment industry going beyond just North America.
On the opposite side of the world, KPOP, a.k.a Korean pop takes massive inspiration from the black community. Not just from choreographers, but the majority of the music industry lies on the backbone of black producers, set designers, choreographers, and lyricists. Additionally, in the most modern form of entertainment, TIKTOK now acts as a stage for this new era of dance. TikTok Dancers have propelled this new era into the world in the most modern “2020” way possible—viral videos taking on the form of 60 second clips. Many Famous TikTok dances such as the “Renegade”, “Savage” and the most recent “100 Racks challenge” are all created by young Black individuals. However, while these dances are created by talented Black creators, it is important to not only give credit to these individuals, but to celebrate them along the way. Time and time again we have come to see the gentrification of black dances among social media when these dances “have been co-opted by white influencers in the name of clout” It is important to mention that historically,
“Gentrification has referred to the concept of improving a neighbourhood to attract consumers in a higher strata, raising the cost of living and forcing out the (usually Black) people who live there. But increasingly, the colloquial use of the term has shifted the words meaning to refer to the white repossession or appropriation of any Black commodity, or the erasure of Black involvement in the creation of something. The idea of gentrifying a [dance] may seem odd, but it is less so when you think about … how that asset is being mined to widen the gap between white poachers and Black originators, marginalizing those that it should be centering.”
So where does this lead us?
Needless to say, the acknowledgement of dance within the Black community has been and will be on the rise throughout the world. And in light of the rise of recent rightful protests and riots towards police brutality and systematic racism towards the black community (throughout the world, and most effectively in the USA), many artists, students and predominantly the younger generation have seen the impact of cultural appropriation and the need to change the existing narrative towards black artists and dances. The past year has proven to be a year of accountability, and the need to not only bring justice to those deserving, but celebrate, acknowledge and give credit to embrace culture, traditions and arts that are created in the Black community. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and other social media platforms have propelled dance in a new light through vision of inclusion, diversity, culture, and richness with the celebration of dancers.
So what to do this Black history month? Acknowledge and celebrate Black creators in any field it may be. Whether they are dancers, choreographers, artists, shop owners, CEO’s, entrepreneurs, writers and so many more. Celebrate not only throughout Black history month, but throughout the rest of the year, it is our homage to the Black community to not only embrace the work that has been contributed but celebrated. It is important to learn from the Black community for it drives us to inclusivity and historical recognition. If you would like to learn more about dance and the history of African dance, STU Arts Dane offers Stepping Workshops where you can not only learn about stepping but embrace it in full form by dancing it. For more information check out our stepping page here, and for more information about out hip hop classes you can check it out here.
Happy Black History Month!
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The African American Desk Reference, “Black Dance in America, A brief history”, Schomburg Center for research in Black Culture, (Copyright 1999, The Stonesong Press Inc., and the New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.) ISBN 0-471-23924-0 Accessed on February 13, 2021. Accessed from: https://aaregistry.org/story/african-american-dance-a-brief-history/
Lynsey Chutel, “The Choreographer Who Brought Africa to Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’ Had A Clear Message”, (2018, QuartzAfrica), Accessed on February 13, 2021, Accessed from: https://qz.com/africa/1280777/childish-gambinos-african-pop-dance-moves-were-created-by-this-rwandan-choreographer/
Sheldon Pearce, “The Whitewashing of Black Music on TIkTok” (2020, The New Yorker) Accessed on February 13, 2021, Accessed from: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-whitewashing-of-black-music-on-tiktok