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American Dance

Published Wednesday, October 16, 19 | By PaulvHill

Americans have long viewed dancing not only as a social institution which brought men and women together in a socially acceptable venue, but as an expression of personal ability in movement and rhythm.

In the eighteenth-century, dance events were considered fashionable among the white social elite in urban societies, and displaying a new technique was paramount to being admired by one’s peers. At the same time, African-American slaves would gather in groups, engage in dances from their homeland, and reaffirm their sense of heritage and community.

Fred Astaire

Tap is one of the most popular forms of American dance and its origins can be found in early slave clog dancing. It is believed to have been brought to the stage in the mid-1800s during the rise of minstrel shows. As the minstrel shows declined in popularity, tap moved to the increasingly popular Vaudeville stage.


During the 1920’ Harlem Renaissances, jazz dance evolved out of tap, later becoming a new form in its own right. An improvisation of free-flowing rhythms, forms and patterns inspired by their ancestors’ spiritual hymns and dances, mixed with cultural influences surrounding them at that time.

During the 1930’s, several members of Ballet Russes left the group and settled in the U.S., where they established dance studios. The Ballet Theatre, now known as the American Ballet Theatre, was formed. Since the mid-20th century, ballet companies have been founded in many cities throughout the United States.

Eventually, the American dancers broke away from traditional ballet to create their own expressive movement styles and to choreograph dances that were more closely related to actual human life. Recognized as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Martha Graham created a movement language based upon the expressive capacity of the human body. Her revolutionary vision and artistic mastery has had a deep and lasting impact on American dance, influencing generations of choreographers and dancers.

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