Jazz dance dates all the way back to 5,000 – 9,000 years ago. Although many people believe that jazz dance originated from United States, it actually came from early African cultures. In Africa, natives danced to celebrate cycles of life such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death. Child, adults, and the elderly depended on jazz dance to express their culture and beliefs. People from Africa who were later sold into the slave trade around the late 1800’s to mid 1900’s brought the dance with them to the Southern plantations in which they now lived on. The dance took on more of a European style over time. The only place where jazz danced stayed in its original African form was Congo Square in New Orleans.
Slaves were allowed to dance while being supervised by French and Spanish Catholics. The Catholics believed that by letting the slaves dance, they could monitor them to make sure they weren’t planning escapes or practicing voodoo rituals.
After seeing the slaves dance, whites began to paint their faces black and began copying their styles. The very first dance to imitate slave dancers was by Thomas Rice in 1828. It was called “Jump Jim Crow.” It copied the movement of a slave who had been crippled. This became the basis for the era of American entertainment founded on stereotyping slave dancers.
The movement quickly spread to the audience and public, and the result was that dances like the Charleston, Jitterbug, Boogie Woogie and Swing began to develop.
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