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.
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