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Dancing Through Life In Chains Essay

1479 words - 6 pages

Dance can be an outlet of energy, an expression of emotions, or simply a source of joy, but for slaves, dancing served a higher purpose. Dance served various purposes ranging from communication to self-expression to building a sense of community among individuals. Dance helped the oppressed individuals stand together to face adversity. The history of slave dancing is richly intertwined in religion and social culture and deeply based on their African heritage. Dance is the continuous movement of the body to a certain rhythm within a given area, but for slaves, dancing is often more than it appears. (Sorell 1)
Many dances of Africa came to America with individuals who were brought over during slavery, along with the defining characteristic elements of African dance expression. The two most common organizing structures of African dances were the line and the circle. Space was left by the participants, both temporal and physical, to allow for individual expression. The space left in the center of a circle dance, like a ring dance, was a whirlpool of power and spiritual energy. The individual who stepped into the allotted space demanded the surrounding community's support and attention. Music style, frenzied behavior, holy dancing, and spirit possession are all important traits of African dancing. The goal of the dances was gaining the help of the supernatural in dealing with the natural world in which they cannot control or do not understand. Complex rhythms coordinated by drum beat and emphasized by swaying or jerking bodies and stamping feet often dominated African dances. The dances often emulated people, animals, or events occurring in nature, as well as incorporating movements considered sexually suggestive by white puritanical standards of the time. The original African institutional and ceremonial context of African dances was disrupted by being brought in slavery, as well as having affected the function and structure of the dances. (Hazzard-Donald 3)(Sorell 4)
Dance had been an important part of social and religious life for Africans with dance, music, and song being deeply mixed in the traditional African societies and a part of religious ceremonies and rites. Most dances of Africans are joined with magic and religion and were often used to gain sympathetic magic to become successful in a hunt or in war by appeasing the spirits or assuring the dancer of life in the face of death. From a more religious aspect, dancing and music served as a means of communicating with God by uniting the worlds of gods and people. Christianity and the culture of white people had its own effect on the function and structure of dances in the African community. Before Christianity, everyone participated in dancing in their communities, and all dancing was considered sacred, not making a distinction between the secular and the religious. Religious dances were often misinterpreted by white slave owners to be social dances because of the incorporated dances and...

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