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Master Drummer.jpeg

African dances are largely participatory, with spectators being part of the performance.





Dances teach social patterns and values and help people work, mature, praise, or criticize members of the community while celebrating festivals and funerals, competing, reciting history, proverbs, and poetry, and encountering gods. African dances are largely participatory, with spectators being part of the performance. With the exception of some spiritual, religious, or initiation dances, there are traditionally no barriers between dancers and onlookers. Even ritual dances often have a time when spectators participate.

Traditional dance in Africa occurs collectively, expressing the life of the community more than that of individuals or couples. In all sub-Saharan African dance, there seems to be no evidence for sustained, one-to-one male-female partnering anywhere before the late colonial era when it was apparently considered in distinctly poor taste. For the Yoruba, to give a specific example, touching while dancing is not common except in special circumstances. The only partner dance associated with African dances would be the Bottle Dance of the Mankon People in the Northwest Region of Cameroon or the Assiko from the Douala people that involve an interaction of Man and Woman and the way that they charm each other.

Emphasizing individual talent, Yoruba dancers and drummers, balss example, express communal desires, values, and collective creativity. Dances are usually segregated by sex, where gender roles in children and other community structures such as kinship, age, and political status are often reinforced. Many dances are performed by only males or females, which is in part due to many dances having developed in association with occupational activities, and beliefs in gender roles and gender expressions. Dances celebrate the passage from childhood to adulthood or spiritual worship. Young girls of the Lunda of Zambia spend months practicing in seclusion for their coming-of-age ritual. Boys show off their stamina in highly energetic dances, providing a means of judging physical health.,being%20part%20of%20the%20performance.


Dance has always been an integral part of daily life in Africa.  In the Americas, it helped enslaved Africans connect with their homeland keeping their cultural traditions alive.

As before enslavement, Africans danced for many special occasions, such as a birth or a marriage, or as a part of their daily activities, dance affirmed life and the outlook of the future.  After the Middle Passage, Africans in the Americas sang and danced while working as slaves, and as they converted to the religions of white-Europeans and indigenous people, they incorporated these traditions into these cultures. Blacks who worked in the colonies of Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, and South America were given more freedom to dance than enslaved Blacks in North America.  Many white-American slave owners barred Africans from most forms of dancing. Africans found ways of getting around these prohibitions. For example, since lifting the feet was considered dancing, many dances included foot shuffling and hip and torso movement. Dances dominant through the 18th century included the ring shout or ring dance, the calenda, the chica, and the juba.  Asadata Defora and Master Juba were early practitioners.

The dances of the plantation moved onto the stage through Minstrel shows, which introduced Black dance to large audiences during the 1800s. As popular entertainment, both Blacks and whites performed them. Initially, Blacks appeared as caricatures that were often ridiculed, but they drew from their cultural traditions even as they made fun of themselves. In 1891, The Creole Show, a revue staged on Broadway introduced The Cakewalk, the first American dance created by Blacks to become popular with the whites. Other Black-influenced dance trends that followed were the Charleston, the Lindy Hop, the Jitterbug, and the Twist. history/#:~:text=In%20the%20Americas%2C%20it%20helped,the%20outlook%20of%20the%20future.


“This world is too complex to be interpreted or understood by one culture. But what has happened is there are cultures (western) that think they are superior to others and their view of this world is THE view of the world and this has been the problem. I have the advantage of understanding culture, understanding science and I am grateful that I did science. So, when I look at dance, I understand it better and I have argued that you are not going to understand the African Phenomena if you don’t understand science because our dances, the whole culture is inspired by the cosmos and the cosmos is characterized by rhythm, seasonality, periodicity. That’s what characterizes our culture. So, there are many layers when you look at music at a performance. It’s history, it’ people’s culture it’s people’s heritage, their values, it’s everything.”


Pathisa Nyathi Zimbabwean Historian (History of Africa with Zeinab Badwi Episode 2)

Credits:Dating STamarcus Brown, Isaiah McClean, Ilona Virgin, Mohammed Nohassi, Nkululeko Mayiyane, T. Olarewaju, Jabari Timothy, Jusde Voyage, Anaba Nunu, 
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