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Where did social dance originated?

At the end of the 19th century, when dance began to be used for socializing among European immigrant groups. The use of ballroom dancing and ballet for dancing in the public sphere were the earliest examples. According to John Mee, a sociologist from the University of Toronto, “It was a form of dancing, and it was very successful in the United States for almost a century; however, by the mid-20th century it was largely supplanted by sports; the emphasis became on sportsmanship and physical fitness rather than the physicality of dance which has become so popular today” (J. Mee 1980, 32).

The use of dance in socializing increased considerably during the early 20th century. In fact, dance played such an important role in American society that it would have been hard to imagine at any other time in history (L.D. Fiske and R. A. Fiske 1998, 10). Although the rise of modern dance and the use of ballroom dancing for socializing increased as early as 1881, it was the emergence of the American civil rights movement that greatly enhanced the use of dancing in socializing.

Dance and Multiple Intelligences | Classroom Choreography

In response to growing public fears of racist backlash, white audiences began to embrace their dancing to black-and-white shows in a way never before seen. Dance became an important part of American culture and the modern dance industry flourished because of it (D. Hutton 1987, 8). While many critics would argue that dancing itself did not provide a benefit over other forms of performance, there were still large cultural benefits for those who used dance and other forms of performance to entertain. The “vocal performance of people in a social context is far more effective than an audience.” (N. W. Balfour 1996, 18). For example, when white audiences did not like a particular black-and-white dance in Chicago (1949), the owners of a dance hall offered black performers an increased amount of money to perform, even if it meant risking their lives.

In the early 1900s, jazz also was an important source of cultural enrichment for American blacks (D. Hutton 1987, 10-11). Jazz has long been regarded as a cultural force that has enriched African-American society and culture across the country (D.H. Jackson and A.F. Jackson 2002, 5). However, while jazz has long been seen as providing a much needed counter to the blues, it did not initially provide a solution to African-American music’s musical