African Art And Dance

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African Art And Dance


From the earliest history of African dance, it is known that dance played a very important role in the lives of the tribal people. Dances were used to ward off danger and to ask for prosperity, to express feelings and emotions and to celebrate ceremonies such as birth or marriage. It also played a major role in tribal religious rituals. As a part of the daily activities, dancing was a way to pass time and to enjoy and affirm life.

One of the main differences between African dance and dances from other parts of the world is that African dance is polycentric. This means that the dancer's body is not treated as one single central unit. Instead, it is divided into several centers, or segmented areas, of movement with each area being able to move to different rhythms within the music.

In most other areas of the world the dancer's body moves as a whole throughout the dance. In African dance, the different centers of the dancer's body creates complex movements that move in conjunction with one another. Examples of the different centers of a dancer's body include:






The Importance of the Drum in African Dance

As dancers move in an expression of their inner feelings, their movements are generally in rhythm to the drumbeat. It is the sound of the drum and the rhythms that are played that provide the heartbeat of the dance. In African dance, the drum helps to set the mood and brings everyone together as a community.

The 1500s saw the beginning of slave labor as Africans were brought to North and South America and the Caribbean. Hundreds of different African dance styles, from various ethnic groups were merged together, along with styles of European dancing. Because of the importance of dance in the daily life of Africans in their homeland, many Africans that were enslaved continued to use dance as a way to keep their cultural traditions and connect with their country.

Enslaved Africans that were taken to colonies in South America, the Caribbean, Spain and Portugal were given much more freedom to carry on their dance traditions than those that were brought to North America. Sadly, many of the North American slave owners prohibited Africans from performing most of their traditional dances.

American dance form often strongly associated in its early years with African Americans. In tap dance, the steps are tapped out audibly by shoes with hard soles and heels to which pieces of metal called “taps” have been added. It is believed that tap dance in America developed in colonial times as a means of communication and expression.

By the mid-1800s, African Americans had combined rhythmic footwork and West African body movements with the rapid toe and heel action of Irish and British clogging. Clogging is a type of dance that consists of a double toe step, a brief transfer of weight to the other foot, and then a step back again—almost always danced in a line ...
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