Since the Charleston and Black Bottom are
Since the 1920s, the term “jazz dance” has been used to describe a constantly evolving form of popular and artistic dance movement. It is a reflection of a popular culture, and as the culture changes so does the face of jazz dance. Dance is Unique and has individuality no matter what. It is this factor that allows it to either stay the same or change with every new year.
Therefore, social dances of the 1920s like the Charleston and Black Bottom are known as jazz dances, but so are the theatre dances of choreographer Bob Fosse. The style of the syncopated sounds of tap dancing can be considered as jazz dancing, but so can the body popping movements of breakdancing. The common theme tying these seemingly disparate entities together is rhythm, or more specifically, rhythm steeped in African influences. The variation in style results from individual approaches and applications. Although a style of jazz dance movement may surface and soon disappear, it is rhythms – born in Africa and refined in America – that form the basis, the common element, of American jazz dancing. Jazz dance is a blend of African and European traditions in an American culture. They feel that European movement contributed an elegance, and that African movement gave a rhythmic idea.
The importance of rhythm in African music and dance is by using the metaphor of a drumbeat for the heartbeat of Africa. It would seem that, although European movement has given a shape to jazz dance, African rhythmic style is the factor that has given jazz dance its character and appeal. To trace the history of jazz dancing in America, it is therefore necessary to begin in Africa. Africans danced in celebration of birth, puberty, marriage, and death. There were also dances to demonstrate competitive skills. An entire community from children to the elderly would dance in a communal expression of their cultural beliefs. Dances were primarily accompanied by the beat of various types of drums, as well as string instruments, chimes, reedpipes, and other instruments.
This reliance on dance movement to interpret life carried over to the culture of the African-American during the time of slavery. The story of jazz dance begins with the importing of African culture to America through the American slave trade. African dance and has contributed the many characteristics to dance in America.The American slave trade began in 1619 with the arrival of Dutch trading ships carrying a cargo of Africans to Virginia.
However, Africans were imported as slaves to the West Indies as early as 1518. The retention of African culture by those in slavery was stronger in the West Indies than in America, as the Spanish and French rulers listened to the more interpretive view of dancing taken by the Catholic church. In America, the Protestant church strongly disapproved of dance of any kind. Therefore, dances that occurred in the West Indies retained more of the African dance structure than did those of America.
These dances can be classified as recreational or sacred. An example of a recreational dance is the Calenda. Accompanied by a rhythmic drum beat, a line of males would face a line of females and one dancer from each line would advance toward each other and jump and strike thighs in mid-air. Also danced was the Chica – where a female would perform a shimmering motion of the torso with feet on the ground and waving a kerchief over her head, while a male performed similar movements in a while circling around the female. The Juba was a competitive dance where opponents would out do each other in actions requiring skill, sometimes while balancing a cup of water on the head.
Sacred dances were based on the worship of religious gods. The goal of the dance was for the dancer to become enveloped, or “possessed,” by the god so that it would speak through the dancer. Through the combined application of chanting, drumming, and dance, the dancer entered a world of the supernatural and experienced the superhuman traits of the gods. In this state the dancer would command strength and abilities far beyond that capable in a non-possessed state. Two examples are voodoo dances and Shango dances.
Another type of sacred dance was performed by “shouters”, where the dancers would sing, clap, and move in a circular pattern around a room until the desired positions were formed. Traces of the African religious practice can be found in some forms of jazz dance. In America, the dance movement of Africa was restrained mainly by two factors – the attitude of the Protestant church towards dancing as being immoral, and the restricted use of the African instrument (the drum). The church felt that dancing was sinful and any stimulation of the senses was to be avoided. This included any type of spontaneous dance for joy that was part of the African-American expression. Drumming was banned in 1739 following the Cato Conspiracy.
This was an insurrection by slaves that was mounted with the aid of messages transmitted by drum signals. White plantation owners responded by banning all drumming, and it had another effect of forcing slaves to search for other instrument options to accompany their dancing. The substitute instruments included quills (an assortment of pipes of different pitches), banjos, clapping hands and stamping feet, and the fiddle (violin).Dances that occurred on plantations could be for recreation or religious reasons. Although they were based in the African tradition, the European influences of the plantation owners gave the movement a distinct American appearance. Many dances imitated animals, like the Pidgeon Wing and the Buzzard Lope.
There were ring dances performed at weddings and funerals. Some dances celebrated special occasions, like the Christmas holiday and the work-week ending Saturday night dance. At a gathering in town or on the plantation, a special platform would be constructed and slaves would entertain white plantation owners with their movement ability, with the best dancer (or dancer’s owner) winning a prize. Eventually, the owners began to enjoy watching the comic antics and held contests between dancers and plantations for the best dancer.
It was customary for the winner to receive the prize of a cake.