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Dance plays a big part in culture in many different societies. In African culture dance is for enjoyment, celebration, and honor . Dance brings together communities in Africa. As well as helping people find and understand their rules inside their communities . There are many different types of African dance. Traditional dance, African religion, Ritual dance, Ancestral worship, ceremonial dance and much more . During times of oppression traditional dance meant so much more. It was a form of communication, expression and freedom. The importance of African dance varies and is used in many different forms for various reasons. Dance in African culture was used beyond the borders of Africa, it was brought to the Americas and grew into the forms of dance we know it as today. Getting through such hardship using dance helped shape what modern day african dance is today.
Dance has always been a big part of African Culture, long before they were even oppressed or taken from native lands. It had always been a very fundamental part of the lives of Africans. Special occasions like childbirth or marriage were a cause for celebration and they used dance to do so. Different dance styles and meanings for dance vary depending on the tribe . There is the social context, division between the sexes and the religious context . Inside indigenous customs each performance has a purpose and principle. As well as secondary purposes that reflect on everyone’s shared values. A lot of the time there is no visible distinction between ritual celebrations and social recreation.
Enslaved Africans became the musicians of everyone’s choice among the blacks and whites for celebrations. This was all while they were still enslaved and suppressed. Africans were recognized as the best musicians by many due to their ear for music and various dance styles and execution. During the colonial era in New York fugitive slaves were not uncommon. But among these fugitive slaves the most common or reported type of them all were those who were musicians or had an eye for the arts, such as dance . Enslaved Africans were able to achieve so much even under such harsh circumstances such as oppression. Such achievements include African American visual arts, and new world visual arts expressions. This was done by enslaved african craftsmen. Many enslaved Africans brought their culture with them and in doing so they left behind some of this essence in the Americas and in American culture . Through slavery and being put on a slave ship, Africans never lost touch with their dance culture or a sense of the arts.
The dance now referred to as Gumboot was used by African gold mine workers who used dance as a form of communication. The development of this dance started when rural laborer workers started to work inside the mines. They were facing oppression and the difficulties in the mine itself. If the workers talked to one another they had to endure some kind of punishment . Under the harsh conditions the workers were forced to create new forms of communication. Through this dance many people of different ethnic groups and backgrounds came together and shared a language through rhythm and music, which made helped developed the dance more . Workers worked long hard hours for three months at a time, in complete darkness and unable to speak. It got its name because in the mines the workers used their gumboots to communicate as an alternative to actually speaking. They slapped their boots, stomped their feet and even made noise with their ankle chains. As time went on ‘gumboot’ developed into something greater and gained more popularity. It turned into a social activity done by many. Gumboot was accompanied by songs that mocked mean bosses, low wages, and more. . Gumboot since then how evolved into something great. It’s a South African form of art. The dance become vibrant and theatrical, with boundless energy and brings a sense of joy and freedom to those involved. The people turned this form of communication used during a time of being oppressed and turned it into something greater.
Black culture strongly influenced dance in the 20th century and it all began in Harlem, New York. Harlem was home to many people of color of all backgrounds, traditions and beliefs, with their own dance styles and music. Harlem brought together many and became the “it place” to be amongst the black and white communities in New York. Everyone came together in clubs and brought upon new dances famously known today as The Charleston and Lindy hop . This artistic explosion became known today as The Harlem Renaissance. It all started when a couple middle class black families moved to Harlem in the early 1900s. Of course during that time many whites did not accept the fact that many black families were moving into Harlem so they fought to keep them out. But when all attempts failed they left Harlem instead . By 1920, roughly 300,000 African Americans moved from the south into Harlem, giving its name the “it place” and becoming one of the most popular destinations in New York . During the Harlem Renaissance the black community started to break barriers never done before. One of those being the first all black musical on Broadway known as The Shuffle Along, which opened in 1921. The Shuffle Along created new opportunities for many black performers and dancers.
New modern African dance can be set into categories such as dance clubs and dance companies African dance has come a long way from just being done by different tribes in African, to being done by slaves in the American into what we know it as today in its modern day form. A form of expression and freedom. African dance wasn’t always accepted by whites, a lot of the time African Americans weren’t even allowed to participate in dance theatre because of their skin color. Slaves were often punished for dancing on plantations. People like Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus paved the way for new opportunities and jobs for African Americans. As well as creating new forms of African dance. Today African dance has many forms and is not only done in african, but around the world. Reaching many different audiences and cultures. African dance culture is embraced and now embedded in American culture. The essence of African dance has greatly influenced many different types of dance styles today and will only continue to do so. As long as we keep such traditions and movement alive.