The History of African Dance Music

Written by carl harper
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The History of African Dance Music
(Reed Dance in Swaziland - tribal chiefs image by Elzbieta Sekowska from

The history of African dance dates back hundreds of years, to when Africans found joy in their original dances during times of hardship. After their styles of dance had spread to North and South America and parts of Europe, African-inspired dance become popular and influenced other people to create their own dances by using ideas of African dance.

African Dance

Dance always has been essential to the tribes and nations of Africa. The people of Africa used their unique dance for several reasons, including fighting off danger and asking for prosperity; expressing feelings and emotions; celebrating births, marriages and religious rituals; and as a productive way to pass time. The African dance is polycentric, meaning the dancer's body is not used as a single central unit, but is rather divided into several centres (shoulders, arms, chest, pelvis and legs).


During the 1500s, Africans were shipped to North and South America and the Caribbean. Slaves came from various ethnic groups, and hundreds of different African dance styles came with them. Slaves kept African dance traditions alive for comfort and to connect with their home country.

18th and 19th Centuries

During the 18th century, numerous styles of African dance evolved in North America. The Ring Dance (also called the Ring Shout) came from the African Circle Dance and is viewed as the primary African dance. The Ring Shout was performed only to percussion instruments, clapping of the hands, stomping of the feet and a "call and response" type of singing (or shouting). Other African dances that evolved at this time included the Juba, the Chica and the Calenda.

Performing African Dances

The 19th century saw the rise of minstrel shows, popular shows in North America that consisted of working-class white men dressing up as plantation slaves. They imitated black musical and dance forms. These shows had become very popular by the time of the Civil War.

20th century and Today

African dances continued to be accepted in American during the 20th century and began influencing popular American dances such as the Charleston, the lindy hop, the jitterbug, the twist and jazz dance. Tap dancing, which has its roots in Irish jigs and English clog dancing, also was influenced by the African shuffle dance.

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