When we look through how dance has evolved in the U.S., we see that the country has always been one ready to get MOVING. As the years have gone by, the twentieth century has become iconic for its various styles and forms of dance that have shaped dance history in the U.S.
Today we even have Tik Tok setting modern day American dance trends to songs that sometimes originated in earlier decades!
With that, let’s revisit some of the decade-defining dances of the past in America. How many are you familiar with?
The 1900s - Jazzing it Up
Prior to the 1900s, most of the dance styles and techniques were reminiscent and variations of those taught in Europe, as immigrants from European countries would bring along and introduce these styles in American style.
But by then, black music had also begun to permeate American society, leading to black dance traditions to also influence American dance. So we begin first in the early 1900s, with the rise of jazz in New Orleans. Originating from Africa, jazz was much more improvisational and experimental than the European styles of dancing at the time. Katherine Dunham, known as the matriarch of black dance, grew up when jazz first truly entered American society, and came to become of the genre’s biggest influencers: the body isolation technique is credited to her, which has become a staple in jazz and modern dance styles. Of course, jazz is special to me because my favorite style of dancing developed as a sub-style from jazz: swing dancing!
Image from A Closer Walk.
The Roaring 20s
Next, we move on to the Roaring 20s, which is swing dancing really came into the scene. Some of the most famous swing dances, like the Lindy Hop, originated from African American communities. The Lindy Hop is a classic 8-count dance founded by the iconic Frankie Manning known for its athletic, sporty form. Watch below this energetic video of Frankie dancing; it’s sure to make you want to jump right on to your feet alongside him
Cha Cha Real Smooth in the 50s
The energy continues onto the 1950s, where the Cha Cha enters the scene. The Cha Cha actually originated in Cuba, and was created by Cuban violinist Enrique Jorrin. He named it “cha cha” because that was the sound that the dancers’ made when they danced along to the slow mambo music. It was brought back to Europe by an English dancer, and from there, made its way to the U.S. As a lively dance, the Cha Cha is fun and immensely popular.
Moon Walking into the 80s
Finally, we end in the decade that has since defined our modern society: the 1980s. With many new advancements in technology, music like hip hop and electronic music too finally gained widespread enjoyment. When Michael Jackson first performed “Billie Jean” in the early 1980s, his legendary moonwalk became household knowledge almost instantly. Today, hip hop and modern pop dancing styles combine elements of disco and harks back to even earlier times and styles.
Dance is such an important part of our society and culture, and as we celebrate the rich history of our society, it’s fun to take a look back to see how dance has changed alongside our history.