DANCE & DANCERS

1920s – 30s HARLEM RENAISSANCE

Harlem, located in Manhattan, North of Central Park, New York, became the capital for African American Cultures, Creativity, all forms of Social Activities and Interactions. 

From the early twentieth century, Big Band Jazz music, led by composers in the stature of Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, performed in the large ballrooms and dancehalls. Their performances, broadcasted live on the radio, brought their music into the living rooms of local people, throughout the United States of America. At the time, Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong, was the all-round show business personality, loved by all, as a great musician and excellent band leader.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, the United States of America was in economic turmoil. The impact and effects of the stock-market crash generated the longest period of financial depression, in the history of the country.

In the Roaring Twenties, big bands were the leading music, and were usually greeted with pop-hysteria. The leading orchestras filled massive ballrooms, packed with people eager to forget their troubles, dance and express with joy and happiness. Even when it’s only for a few glorious hours of fun, and whoopee!

Unemployment sky-rocketed, as families lost all their savings, in the attempts to achieve the basics of domestic security. Large sections of the populations in most states, were having difficulties finding money for housing, food, and clothing. 

RENT PARTIES

During the economic depression, socialising through music and dance, became a way to generate income for the ordinary person in their neighbourhoods. Individuals would hire well known musicians, to perform at their house or apartments for an agreed fee. All invited guests would be charged an entrance fee, which would cover food and drinks for the night. 

In this way many African American people were able to survive and live, in the Northern urban centres of the country. For many people music became a way of life. It was the only way to express clearly, deep-seated complex emotions. In every case, music is a universal language, that transcends intellectual abilities, race, religion, and social background.

DANCING

The majority of the dance-steps originated in the local communities, on street corners, or wherever there were a gathering of creative people. Groups of dancers would, on a regular basis, invade the night clubs, to make a name for themselves, and attract the attention of visiting entertainment promoters. If they were hired, after a year or two of modifications, important adjustments, and developments. The dancers were transported away from the clubs to higher levels of musical shows, and work in theatres.

From 1928, Dance Marathons were staged and performed in a few venues, including the Savoy Ballroom and the Manhattan Casino. Leaps, Quivers, Hops and Jumps, flying of arms, legs, with a lot of improvisation for individual expressions were the norm. Hence, the vast numbers of dance variations, glorifications of self-expressions, and physical movements.

Many dance styles made the debut at these venues and events; including the Chicken Shuffle, Bunny Hug, Break – Away, the Turkey Trot, Cake Walk, Charleston, Black Bottom, Jitter Bug, Lindy Hop. Under the banner ‘Lindy Hop’ the dance that began in Harlem 1920s, is now at the present time a world-wide dance movement.    

Dance with music for Social-interaction, quality entertainment, performance, and competition, is a valued creative cultural activity. As a performance, in intense close-up relation to the sounds and frequencies of music. Feel, engage, and move with the rhythms.

The variety, complexity, and richness of African American Dance Cultures, during the Harlem Renaissance, signals a vast area of neglect that requires major attention. Separate and apart from the exotica of Josephine Baker, much more study and research are needed on this important area, to clarify and inform us about this glorious aspect of our most recent past. 

One dynamic example of this art is the famous Nicholas Brothers. Dancing from a very young age, apart from their incredible dancing abilities. They developed a unique style of dressing, mannerism, and attitude, to resemble and reflect high nobility.    

Social Cultural & Creative

Some recent reports suggest, the African American Harlem Renaissance, was a spontaneous explosion of creativity. That viewpoint about the overall events at the beginning of the twentieth century, is far from accurate. The Social, Cultural, and Creative developments, were in fact, carefully coordinated, structured, well executed, and empowered by teams of highly motivated people. Who were involved with all things relating to the struggles for survival, fighting social injustice, and demanding civil rights. Nu-Active