Thursday, January 18, 2018

Modern Dance: From the Polka to the Cakewalk

In the US, the fashion for dance and the concentration on all matters military came to a crescendo at the turn of the 19th century. Coming of age politically, in global terms, meant the sons of America had experienced colonisation and the women wanted to be as fashionable as the Europeans. The invention of a dance style which incorporated marching and skipping was not by chance.

John Philip Sousa introduced the world to the two step, a dance which displayed power. The origins of the Polka are still clouded but it may have been based on a Polish or Czechoslovakian step. The popularity of the Polka followed the waltz and was less intimate, more novel celebrating the new fashion for militaria. Royalty embraced the new dance and the top down order was again assured. The Duke of Wellington danced the polka six times to celebrate the Queen Victoria's birthday. The American newspapers papers commented on the dance's wonderfully militaristic, march like tempo.

In the southern states of North America, for the amusement of the rich, black folks were encouraged to lampoon the dancing styles of the formal balls. Prizes were offered to those dancers who displayed the greatest agility and creativeness. The prize usually consisted of a cake and the competitions became known as the cakewalk.

These were true satire on the popular elegance of ballroom dancing styles and the steps encouraged individuality which allowed elimination during competition. Most significantly the cakewalk contributed to the birth of later dance trends based on jazz rhythms and its music influenced the growth of ragtime in the second decade of the new century. The term "taking the cake" refers to this dance craze, where quite literally the winner, took the cake.

The physical exertion associated with dancing the cakewalk soon had the masses baying for "ragged" music which led to the craze for 'ragtime music" and the prominence of composers like Scott Joplin.

Reviewed 28/01/2016

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