Learn about four important cultural influences on dance in America in this video from the Dance Arts Toolkit series. These include: Native American dance, European dance, African dance, and the blending of cultures to create new dance forms.
Show student additional examples of African and Native American dance. How are they similar and different? What is the relationship between the drumming and the dancing in each?
Create an American dance timeline using photos and images.
Learn an American social dance from an earlier period, such as a reel, square dance, jitterbug, or Charleston. How did it make you feel to dance this dance? Research how dances such as these reflected the times in which they were popular.
Discuss how students dance today. What are popular dances and what are their origins.
Dance in the United States comes from the amazing mixture of cultures and peoples that make up this nation. As people came to America, they brought with them elements of the cultures they left behind. Dance, being very portable, was consistently one of the ways in which immigrants have been able to express their unique identities and sense of community.
Over time, these dances began to blend, as people found themselves interacting more and more with people from other cultures. One exception is Native American dance, which was repressed and developed separately, rather than blending. In some cases, Native American dances were outlawed, reflecting settlers’ efforts to obliterate the native cultures. Many dances from native cultures have survived, however, and are being revived today through efforts such as Powwows.
Social dances that we continue to dance today reflect Americans’ diverse cultural origins. For example, European settlers brought dances such as they reel with them. Many modern American dances reflect the influence of African rhythms and movements.
American artistic dance also reflects the blending of cultures. For example, tap dance grew out of the marriage of Irish step dancing and English clogging and African dance and music.