The history of black dance has played an important role in forming some of the dance forms that we know today. Modern dance, jazz, hip hop, tap and many other genres of dancing have been influenced by the dancing styles of Black people. Many people migrated from the Caribbean and Deep South at the time of Civil War to different cities of USA. New York also became home to many Blacks, where they practiced their different traditions as well as dancing styles.
The district of Harlem in New York was also known to be the most active place for Black as well as White New Yorkers to bring their dance and music together. The clubs of Harlem were alive with excitement where many African American practiced new dance movements. Dance genres such as Charleston, Lindy hop, and Jitterbug were popular at the clubs here. The Harlem Renaissance also became renowned in Europe by 1920.
A Broadway called the Shuffle Along inaugurated in 1921. The first musical made by Black community was an instant hit and created more awareness among Americans towards black dancing. The show also opened up possibilities for Black individuals who wanted to perform and dance. Running Wild, a Broadway hit of the 1923 started in England, creating Charleston dancing style an immense hit.
A star dancer known as Josephine Baker performed at the Revue Negre at Paris in 1925. She was the most popular and the highest paid star of Europe. But she was faced with hostile and racist reactions upon returning to USA. She returned back to Paris where she married French and obtained citizenship of Europe.
Black dances and performers started to become more popular in Britain from the early 20th century. Florence Mills was also one of the stars to perform in the musical “Shuffle Along” and later in the “Plantation Review” which launched in 1924.
The next musical of the singer and dancer was known as the “Blackbirds”. The theme song from the show “I’m a Little Blackbird looking for a Bluebird” became her trademark song. The comedy touch in her singing and dancing made her loved by all who watched her perform. She was a star in London as well as New York with UK journalists calling her the talk of the town.
She had hopes to start an all black revue but she died in 1927 at the age of 32. Her funeral took place in Harlem where thousands of fans in attendance.
Buddy Bradley was worn in 1908 at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He made his debut in Florence Mill’s Revue in 1926. He was primarily a self taught dancer and staged many dances in 1920. He also choreographed routines for famous stars like Eleanor Powel, Ruby Keeler and Adele Astaire.
The dance and stage performer Buddy Bradley was hired by C.B.Cochran in 1933 to work on the Rodgers and Hart musical “Evergreen”. This was the first time a Black dancer choreographed and performed on an all white stage show. He also left New York at that time and shifted to London. Many rumored that he was forced to move because the Mafia of Harlem did not approve Bradley teaching dance to his girlfriend.
He also worked with Jessie Mathews and Jack Buchanan in 1930. He joined hands with Frederick Ashton for the ballet “High Yellow”.
He ran his own dancing studio in London until 1967. He also choreographed many dances in England, France, Switzerland, Spain as well as Italy. He concentrated his work on mixed classical, jazz and modern dances. He was known to be the first African-American to run a white company and form his own troupe to perform in variety shows and televisions.
African-Americans started to perform more in ballet and modern dance from 1940s. Black American dancers known as Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus became the pioneers of this form. They studied black dance in Africa and the Caribbean and bought their studies back to America and in to the classroom of Modern Dance. Their work was greatly influenced by Berto Pasuka who formed the first Black dance company in Britain known as the Ballet Negres.
Lester Horton Dance Theatre and the Alvin Ailey American dance Theatre also played a major role in influencing people with modern dance. They were white and black choreographers and hired African American dancers for their shows.
She is known as the dancer, choreographer and anthropologist in the arts world. Born in 1909, she sang for local churches from a young age. She started her career in Broadway with the musicals LeJazz Hot and Tropics in the year 1934. She also introduced the dance form L’ag’ya which was the combination of rhythms and martial arts movements of the slaves.
Katherine Dunham studied the form of dancing from Haiti, Trinidad, Martinique as well as Jamaica. She had hoped that the White dancers will give equal status and opportunity to Black dances. She developed the techniques of ballet and modern dance in anticipation to trace back her dance roots. She formed a dance school in 1944 at Chicago. Her students learnt tap dance, ballet in combination with philosophy and anthropology of the forms.
Her famous Katherine Dunham company is devoted to African-American as well as African-Caribbean dance. She was known for her smooth and fluent style in choreography. She also performed in many films as well as penned many books for her audience.
She was named America’s irreplaceable dance treasure in 2000. She has many other awards and recognitions to her credit. She died in 2006.
The dancer, choreographer and anthropologist was born in 1919. She was born in Trinidad and raised in New York City. She made her professional debut in 1943. She founded her first dance company in 1946.
She created “Strange Fruit” in 1945. The passionate and angry show had no music. It was based on a poem by Lewis Allen about a black man being lynched by a white man. In the following years, she studied as well as danced in the Caribbean and USA. She worked for the New Dance Group Studios where not many black dancers were given the opportunity to dance alongside White. She received her PHD from New York University for the subject of Dance in Africa.
Fanga was her most famous dance which was an interpretation of welcome by the Africans. Her dance company now known as Pearl Primus Dance Language Institute is known for its method of blending African and Caribbean dance with modern and ballet dances. President Bush also honored Pearl Primus with the National Medal of Arts in 1991. She passed away on October 29, 1994.
He is known as the world’s most accomplished art director, choreographer and a dancer. Born on March 27, 1934 in New York City where he began his dance training at the New York City High School of the Performing Arts. He was the first student to win the Annual Dance Awards.
He received scholarship at the School of American Ballet at the age of 18. He trained and danced with the Academy for 15 years. At his career with the School of American Ballet, he became the principal dancer and performed many roles for his audience. He is most renowned for the pas de deux from Agon and the cheerful Puck in The Midsummer’s Night Dream. The two notable performances were mainly choreographed for him by the late George Balanchine.
He performed in many nightclubs, Broadways, film, and television as well as became a guest star on American TV. Mitchell organized the American Negro Dance Company in 1966. The company was made to promote the USA at the First World Festival of Negro Arts held in Africa. He also founded the National Ballet Company of Brazil in Rio Di Janeiro in 1967.
Mitchell was more inspired to educate dance to the underprivileged children especially those of Harlem District when he came to know of Martin Luther King’s assassination. He started the school known as the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1968. The school aimed at letting the world knows that black dancers were as suited for ballet as white. The school was a success with the students giving their first performance in 1971.
Arthur Mitchell is known as a legacy each day at the Dance Theatre of Harlem. His dance company and school is a multicultural institute where thousands of artists come from all over the world to learn and become a great dancer / performer like him.
Alvin Ailey Dance Company
The Alvin Ailey Dance Company Is a modern dance institute based in New York. It was founded in 1958 by Alvin Ailey.
Being born in a poor rural area, Ailey was inspired to dance after watching Ballet Russes de Monte Carlo. He studied dance with Lester Horton Studio and with Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Katherine Durham. He danced in Broadway musicals and taught students about it in order to earn extra cash. He became the lead dancer in a musical which was choreographed by Jack Cole. The show was known as Jamaica.
His company the Alvin Ailey Dance Company aimed at teaching black culture to its student and enlightening them to the world of American dance. Alvin Ailey himself has created more than 79 dances for his company. The choreographed dances showed a mix of dance forms from modern to jazz. The most famous work of his is known as the Revelations.
The company is currently made up of 30 dancers. It is led by the Robert Battle who is the artistic director. The associate is Masazumi Chaya.