What Is the History of African Dance?

The beginning of slave labor in the 1500s led to the merging of many different kinds of African dance styles, from various tribes and ethnic groups, that mixed with European dance styles and came to be called African dance. Africans who found themselves enslaved commonly used dance as a way to keep cultural traditions alive and to stay connected to their homeland.

Slaves in North America were often more restricted in their ability to move freely and dance than those in South America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal. This led to alterations of African dance in North America to accommodate restrictions, such as slaves being prohibited from lifting their feet; the slaves responded by creating moves that included shuffling the feet and moving the hips and body. Dances such as the Ring Dance, the Juba, the Chica and the Calenda were popular on plantations throughout the 1700s.

African dance moved from the plantations onto the stage as minstrel shows became popular in the 1800s. These shows, which featured both white and black performers, brought African dance to a wider audience where its influence could spread to other segments of the population and their dance styles. In the 1900s, African dance continued to evolve and develop through popular dances like the Charleston, tap dancing, the Jitterbug, jazz dancing and hip hop dancing.