Your Best Dance Point

African Dance, a New Trend in America

Throughout the ages, traditional dances have been used to fight off danger, ask for riches, convey feelings and passion, or celebrate festivals or rituals, such as birth or marriage. They have also helped natives work, grow up, praise or condemn community members.

In African culture, traditional dances take place as a group, conveying the life of the village rather than of the individuals or couples. African dance is interpretative, using the theories of polyrhythm and whole body expression.

During the 1600s, African slaves in North America were forbidden from performing majority of the culture’s traditional dances, but they were unstoppable. They found means to adjust their rhythmic movement and evade the dance preventions that were forced on them, like the lifting of their legs in any type of dancing. Soon, dances developed that integrated shuffling of feet and shuffling of hips and torso.

During the 18th century, several dances were performed often including the ring dance (also called the ring shout), juba, chica, and calenda. The 19th century popularized Minstrel shows, as plantation dances took form. By the end of the century, The Creole Show introduced the cake walk dance, the first African-influenced dance that was recognized by the white audience.

The 20th century saw the development of African-American dances focusing on social dance. African-American communities constantly embraced and participated in this kind of dance. African-influenced dance craze of this period included Charleston, Lindy hop, jitterbug, twist and jazz. Tap dancing, which was created by combining African shuffle movements, traditional Irish jigs and English clogging, was included in movies of the era.

African-American dance is a cross-generational tradition. It is not learned in dance studios or formal classrooms. Children learn them as they grow, reviving dance steps from previous generations and adding new variations and styles of the present generation.

Nowadays, dancing is used as a technique to pass time, and enjoy and assert life. Movements in African dances are simplified as part of daily activities so that anybody can do them. Dancers must feel how their body parts move. The powerful energy seen in African dance was introduced to maximize the benefits of aerobics.  

The warm up session in an African aerobics class, called Afrobics, focuses on the parts of the body that will be used throughout the aerobic session. Participants concentrate on feeling the normal movements or contractions so that various parts of the body are isolated, particularly the chest and pelvic area. The low impact and highly energetic Afrobics has different simplified African dance movements that translated into a series of choreographed movements to burn calories down, build stamina and endurance, and get the excitement going. During the cooling down phase, participants flow into an unhurried, stretching session. Rhythms are tranquil and stress-free, back to normal heart rate, preparing to conclude the sessions with a more peaceful mind, spirit and body.