Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dance and Music in African American Slave Culture

Dance and Music  
Jurretta Jordan Heckscher
Excerpted from World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States

Dance and music were activities of life-sustaining importance to the people enslaved in the American South. From the 1620s to the 1860s, on small farms and great plantations, in village workshops and city factories, from southern Delaware to eastern Texas, slaves made music and danced. They sang songs to pace their grinding agricultural labors, remember their ancestors, mourn those who had died or been stolen from them, mock their oppressors, and worship the divine; they danced to strengthen the bonds of kinship and community, to find love and pleasure, and to experience their bodies in ways that did not belong entirely to someone else. To understand what slavery meant to slaves means to understand their dance and music and to understand American dance and music means understanding how much these art forms owe to those who were enslaved in the United States.

To learn more, check out World of a Slave: Encyclopedia of the Material Life of Slaves in the United States edited by Martha B. Katz-Hyman and Kym S. Rice. This two-volume encyclopedia is the first to focus on the material life of slaves. Check out the New York Times article recently published on this important and unique work.

Be sure to take a look at The African American Experience database for regularly updated content on African American history and culture. Over 1,000 slave narratives were just added. Sign up for a free 60-day subscription today!


  1. Recently, the term "dance music" is familiarly known club, electronic music ... techno, trance, house, eurodance, trance and breakbeat, drum and bass, hip hop, Raga. electronic dance music developed in 1970. Kraftwerk, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer and Sylvester are few artists who began to dance music phenomenon. Since 1988, many developed in terms of dance music, Acid House and Techno trance ambient air.

  2. What are similarities of African Music styles and Disco music style?

  3. Rhythms are layered in disco, as in African polyrhythms. I'm not sure exactly how similarly they are layered, since I am a dance writer. Both disco and African music are for dancing...the rhythms make you want to dance. The African expatriate group Manu Dibango had what some consider a first disco hit; (it became popular in 70s discos). There was some back and forth between Afro-pop artists and US disco and soul artists in the early 70s. They listened to each other. James Brown went to Africa. I think you are asking about African music styles and not African-American?