The most popular genre of theatre in the 19th century were Minstrel Shows.

Minstrel shows were performed by white performers who would put on a parody of what black people sounded like and how they danced. These white performers would put burnt cork on their faces and this is what is known as “Black Face.”

An actor named Ted was one of the first to imitate black dance on stage, in black face, with The American Company in Philadelphia in 1767, it was call “Negro Dance.” Other actors saw what he was doing and the huge crowd reaction that he got and decided to do the same in their acts.

Thomas Rice was another cultural appropriator during this time period who saw a black man with a limp dancing a jig and singing in a stable behind the theatre. He stole the dance and song and even named himself after the black man’s slave name, Daddy “Jim Crow” Rice.

These minstrel shows where performed all over the country and the world. Black life through the white gaze, over exaggerated on stage, strictly to get a laugh from white audiences.

African Americans were not allowed in the theaters and were not allowed to perform onstage with whites. But that would change toward the end of the century with performers such as “Juba” William Henry Lane, Egbert Williams and George Walker.

– Haskin, James, Black Dance in America: A History Through It’s People, 1990 HarperCollins, NY

Photo References:

Minstrel Shows and Their Meaning: Why Blackface Costumes ARE NOT Okay