As a dancer, I can firmly say that dance is one of the ultimate expressions of Black joy.
Since the era of slavery, gathering together to sing and move hips and feet to the beat of the music of the rhythm of clapping hands has been an act of rebellion and freedom.
Black dance, once deemed unappealing, has grown to become an art form that is shared worldwide. However, this international sharing of Black dances has made the art form admired and often imitated.
In order to honor and preserve black art, here are 11 dances that represent joy, creativity, and innovation.
1. The Juba Dance
One of the original African American dances is the Juba dance, also called the Hambone dance. It was a dance that started as a rebellion. When enslaved Africans weren’t allowed to play drums on the plantations, they created music and sound through their bodies. By clapping their hands on their thighs and chest, they made a dance that helped them to feel grounded and happy.
Over the years, this dance was popularized by William Henry Lane, also known as Master Juba. The dance became part of the third movement of Florence Price’s first symphony. It was powerful integration of classical music and the history of enslaved people.
Tap is an African American Vernacular art form that fused Irish dancing, British clogging, and West African dance. It quickly became famous in the 1900s.
Gregory Hines comes to mind when many people think of Black tap dancers. Yet other famous female Black tap dancers were often not credited enough for their contributions.
Jeni Le Gon was a unique tap performing; she wore pants instead of skirts and performed with high-energy kicks and turns. She was a confident performer and not a dainty dancer.
3. The Charlestown
The Charlestown is a fun and lively dance that consists of twisting the toes and heels out while swinging the legs back and forth. Often performed to jazz and Charleston music, many may not know it has roots in African dances. Specifically, dances come from Nigeria, Ghana, and Trinidad.
After appearing in the black musical Runnin’ Wild, this dance spread like wildfire. It became the move that everyone was doing.
There is some discrepancy regarding who started the dance. Still, many contribute Russel Brown, Jenkins Orphanage Band, and the Gullie/Geechie community for creating the dance.
4. The Lindy Hop
As a mixture of African American dances and European partner dances, the lindy hop became famous at the Savory Ballroom, one of the few non-segregated places in the late 1920s and 1930s.
The lindy hop is a dance performed with high energy, and many moves consist of swinging a dance partner out from a closed to a more open position. This dance also has a level of improvisation, which makes sense since it’s primarily performed to jazz music.
Some of the pioneers of this dance include Mattie Pernell, Shorty’ George Snowden, Big Bea, Little Bea, and Leroy Stretch.
5. The Twist
The origins of the dance aren’t entirely clear. Still, this dance came from the ever-popular song “ The Twist,” originally sung by Han Ballard and the Midnighters.
However, when Chubby Checker covered the song, he influenced the world. After his premiere of the song and dance on the American Bandstand, everyone was twisting their hips and feet to the rhythm of the beat.
6. Break dancing
Breakdance, known as one of the five elements of hip hop, started in New York City during the Bronx fires. During this horrific time, Blacks and Latinos came together to create art that is known as hip-hop. An art form that extends from music to dance, to art and spoken word.
When DJs would play music, dancers would perform on the drum breaks of a song. They would go from fast and intricate foot movement to spinning, flipping, and kicking on their hands, feet, and head.
Some pioneer break dancers are Crazy Legs, Zulu Kings, and Mr. Wiggles.
Dance is revolutionary, and House music and dance are evidence of this.
House dancing is a form of movement that isn’t as acrobatic as break dancing but still has unique intricacies.
House is a more fluid type of dance where dancers move through the beats rather than on them.
Other staple house dance moves include jack in the box, shuffle step, stomp, and loose leg.
Key players in house dance are Ejoe Wilson, Tony McGregor, Marjory Smarth, Caleaf Sellers, and Brian “Footwork” Green.
8. Hip-hop social dances
On the hip-hop scene, different dance moves emerged at parties and events, such as the snake, the cabbage patch, Harlem shake, the running man, and various movements.
These social dances allowed people to connect, vibe, and create a shared experience where everyone was moving their bodies in a similar way.
Buddha Strech, Peter Paul, Scap, Loose Joint, and Rosie Perez were some of the dancers that set the foundation for Hip hop dance.
Locking is a dance style that took over the dance scene and was spearheaded by two major dance groups: the Lockers and the GoGo Brothers.
Locking is a style of dance that is composed of very exact movements. This dance form is unique because it consists of fast movements accompanied by freezing or locking in certain positions.
During the 1970s, the dance started gaining popularity. The GoGo Brothers were the first to perform the locking during a basketball halftime show. Tony GoGo and legendary co-founders James ‘SkeeterRabbit’ Higgins and Edwin ‘Buddy GoGo’ Lombard paved the way for one of the most infamous Locking groups, The Lockers.
They were started by Don Campell and Toni ‘Mickey’ Basil. They cemented the locking in the history books with more exact movements and a signature clothing style.
Locking became so popular that The Lockers performed on the Sout Train, Saturday Night Live, Carnegie Hall, and Radio City Music Hall.
Popping is a dance form that many famous artists, such as Michael Jackson and Chris Brown, have shown off in their videos and performances. Yet this style came into play before these artists were well known.
Popping consists of quickly contracting or flexing your muscles and moving in a robotic sequence. A form of dance that Boogaloo Sam created. The popularity of popping expanded with the formation of the dance group the Electric Boogaloos, which consisted of Booglano Sam, Popin Pete, Mr. Wiggles. Sitter Rabbit, Suga Pop, Pop n Taco, and Boogaloo Shrimp.
Krumping, a dance form that can appear violent and strange to those outside the culture, has served as a saving grace for many young dancers.
Originating from the streets of South Central Los Angeles, krumping developed from a style of dance known as clowning that Tommy, the Clown, started.
Clowning became a dance crave where dancers formed groups and performed at various events in their communities. From these groups, younger dancers sought to create something new and original. Thus they developed krumping, a style that used more exaggerated arm and leg movements.
Black history is found within the history books, it’s heard in stories that are told, but it can also be seen within the movement of black dancers.
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Kiersten is a freelance writer and coach. As a writer, she has written for Travel Noire, Passion Passport, BAUCE mag, and various travel and lifestyle blogs. As a writer, her goal is to write content that inspires others to take action. As a coach, her goal is to empower women to be their most authentic selves. In her free time, you can find her dancing to any song any where.