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.