African Roots of Popular Dance

"Improvisation in African dance originally functioned as a disruption in the basic rhythmical pattern or beat, which allowed dancers to break out of ordinary consciousness and move into the world of their ancestors by entering a state of possession. The use of breaks were later vitally important in regards to many American social dances such as the Charleston, the big apple, the jitterbug and especially tap."


  • Africans danced for special occasions such as birth, marriage, or as a part of their daily activities
  • Dance affirmed life and the outlook of a better future
  • Sang and danced as enslaved Africans, which influenced lifting the feet, foot shuffling and hip torso movement
  • Plantation dances moved onto the stage through Minstrel shows, which introduced black dance to large audiences
  • They were often ridiculed through African caricatures but drew from tradition
  • (1891) The Creole Show, a revue staged on Broadway introduced The Cakewalk, the first dance created by black Americans to become popular with the White population
  • Dance trends that followed: the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, the Twist
  • Black dancers such as Bill Robinson brought respectability and popularity through competitive dancing in the broadway show “Shuffle Along”


"One dance in particular, the jitterbug dance, was quite popular in the African American community, particularly in the Harlem nightclubs in New York City...
...whereas white dances typically involved rigid upper body posture, black dancers incorporated movements from their African heritage which typically consisted of quick legwork and very mobile upper body movement"
“The term jitterbug comes from an early 20th-century slang term used to describe alcoholics who suffered from the ‘jitters’”

West Africa has a tradition of social dances that involve many movements originating from the abdominal and hip regions of the body and have often included stomping and large leg and foot movements.


The Juba was one of the earliest black dances in the new world

Called Mo’juba in Yoruba, also the phrase mojo is derived from the name, and means “I give reverence to”

In West African Traditions, prayer and dance were linked

“The Juba dance was originally from West Africa. IT became an African-American plantation dance that was performed by slaves during their gatherings when no rhythm instruments were allowed due to fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming. The sounds were also used just as Yoruba and Haitian talking drums were used to communicate. The dance was performed in Dutch Guiana, the Caribbean, and the southern United States.”

The Twist

"In the 1890’s, the African American plantation dance called “wringin” or “twistin” was popular with American slaves. In addition, the use of the name “twist” for dance movements most certainly came from the pelvic dance motion called the “twist” that came to America from the Congo during slavery."

One of the hit songs of early blackface minstrelsy was a banjo player named Joel Walker Sweeney who produced a hit song "VineShaquille Twist"

The Twist became a worldwide crazy in the 60's and is now considered an emblem of the time

Chubby Checker brought the dance to the masses

The Dick Clark clark show helped spread the dance all over America

The Queen

pantsula dance

In her famous song Run The World, Beyonce pays tribute and finds inspiration from South Africa with Pantsula Dance

The Tofo Tofo Boys of Mozambique integrate this dance with Kwaito music

Despite not knowing Beyonce, they aided her in choreographing bold dance moves for her video which has been viewed over 330 million times

“[Lemonade] invokes so much of the Yoruba tradition, which is grounded in African tradition,” Dr. Amy Yeboah, associate professor of Africana studies at Howard University, said. “But it spreads across the diaspora. So you see it in Cuba, you see it in Louisiana. It’s a cultural tradition that connects women of the diaspora together.”


"Modern day twerking is very similar to Makouka, a dance from Cote d’Ivoire. The dance has existed for centuries and consists of a series of movements emphasizing the buttocks. Mapouka requires great skill and isolation of muscles. From its origin, Mapouka was a celebratory dance for festivals by Africans and was widely accepted because people believed that this dance led to encounters with God. Research shows that Mapouka has been used as a way to decide mates for young men and women as well.”

-Ebony Wiggins

The dance began in the southeast of the Ivory Coast

Mapouka in the local language translates to "butt dance"

"It's performed mostly by women, and usually for ceremonies where they shake their buttocks vigorously from side to side, almost as if the rear end is shivering independently of the rest of the body."

Modern Twerking IS SEXUALIZED in america

This contrasts greatly with the dance's African roots

Throughout time African dance has significantly influenced popular dances in America

African influence in popular culture is often overlooked and the country and its people do not get the recognition they deserve


Created with images by KCBalletMedia - "KC Dance Day 2012" • Janssem Cardoso - "Lánre Njoku" • beelover9481 - "Beyonce_Knowles_-_Performs_in_Milan_May_10__1_4644606b28503"

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