1930’s

  • Black dancers began to engage in “modern dance” performances.
  • The first professional black dance company was established by Helmsley Winfield in 1931 in New York.
    • The company was first called Bronze Ballet Plastique, and was later changed to Negro Art Theatre.
    • Dancers included Edna Guy, Frances Dimitry, Ollie Burgoyne, and Randolph Sawyer.
    • Debut concert called, “First Negro Dance Recital in America.”
  • African dance on stage was considered a novelty by critics because they did not regard it as serious dancing.
  • In 1933 Winfield and his company were involved in the first black dance featured at the Metropolitan Opera House.
  • Dance programs were being created at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
    • One of the first being the Hampton Institute Creative Dance Group.
  • Asadata Dafora made a tremendous impact in the public perception of African dance and of black concert dance.
  • In 1935 the Works Progress Administration agency established under Franklin D. Roosevelt put The Federal Theatre Project into work at the Height of The Great Depression.
    • This program paid artist to create for all people.
    • Lasted for 4 years.
  • The first black concert dance company called the First American Negro Ballet made it’s New York Debut in 1937.
    • Started by a white German named Eugene von Grona.
    • The company struggled unable to get bookings.
    • Not accepted by white critics.
  • The new dance craze of the late 1930’s was the Jitterbug.

Dancing at Dusk – Pina Bausch’s The Rite of Spring (Excerpt) – But make it African!

My, oh my, how the perspective and voice changes when the skin and setting change. I was captivated by this piece when I first saw it in the documentary about Pina Bausch, but this one hit different. On a beach in Senegal with 38 African dancers! Get into it! The full piece is on Vimeo for one month only.

1920’s Harlem Renaissance

  • Harlem Renaissance 1921-1933
  • Black musicians, singers, and dancers became really popular with white audiences.
  • Black dancers had steady work.
  • Between 1921-1939 there were about 40 black musicals.
  • There were performers at exclusive clubs in Harlem like The Cotton Club, Barron Wilkins’ Exclusive Club, and Connie’s Inn.
    • These clubs catered to rich whites and the entertainment rivaled any Broadway show.
  • Colorism played a larger role for performers. Only light skin performers would get hired.
  • The most famous dance to come out of the 20’s was the Charleston.
    • The first dance craze to take the world by storm
  • The Charleston has African roots, tied to the Ashanti people. It was also seen in Haiti. The name came from Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Elida Web was the first to put the Charleston on the stage in the show “Runnin Wild” in 1923.
  • During this time period domestic workers were paid more than performers.
  • The Cotton Club and other clubs of the era had performers of the likes of The Nicolas Brothers, Bojangles and Clarence “Buddy” Bradley.

The Nicholas Brothers

  • Fayard Nicholas born in 1914
  • Harold Nicholas born in 1921
  • Made their debut in 1931 at age 7 and 13, dancing on “The Horn and Hardart Kiddie Hour.”
  • Later that following year they made their debut at The Cotton Club.
  • The Nicholas Brothers made their Broadway debut in Ziegfeld Follies of 1936.
  • Starred in the films
    • “Down Argentine Way” with Betty Grable
    • “Stormy Weather” with Lena Horne
  • When tap lost its appeal in the USA in the late 1940s, the brothers went to Europe.
  • In the 1980s when tap started to make a comeback, the brothers returned to star in television and movies.
  • The Nicholas Brothers also starred in shows on the Las Vegas strip.
  • Harlod Nicholas passed away in 2000
  • Fayard Nicholas passed away in 2006

Bill “Bojangles” Robinson

  • Born May 25, 1878.
  • Got the nickname “Bojangles” from childhood friends.
  • Coined the term “copacetic” which meant, everything was better than fine and dandy.
  • First role was as Pick, in the 1892 minstrel show “The South Before the War”.
  • 12 year partnership with George Cooper, where Bojangles went from playing the clown to getting equal billing with Cooper.
  • Around 1915 Robinson developed a solo act and traveled all over the U.S.
  • Made his Broadway debut in 1928 in Lew Leslie’s “Blackbirds”.
  • During the depression Robinson went to Hollywood where he co-stared with Shirley Temple in several of her films.
  • In 1936 after 50 years in the business, Robinson headlined his first show at The Cotton Club.
  • Bill “Bojangles’ Robinson passed away November 25, 1949.