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Free to Dance Dance Timeline

1619 In August 1619, the first Africans to set foot on American soil step off a Dutch ship onto the shores of Jamestown, Virginia. A year later, the MAYFLOWER brings the first English Pilgrims to Cape Cod. Many of the first Africans in America are not slaves but indentured servants, like many of the first Europeans.




1667-82 Race slavery becomes law. Over a period of 400 years, the African slave trade that began with the Portuguese in 1441 captures 40 million Africans; 20 million arrive in the Americas. While the captives bring with them little material evidence of their culture, their music and dance have a lasting impact on that of the New World.


1791 Using the dimensions of the slaver the HMS BROOKES, a sketch of how slaves are shackled and crammed into the hulls of ships, like spoons, is developed. In 1788, Alexander Falconbridge's book AN ACCOUNT OF THE SLAVE TRADE ON THE COAST OF AFRICA describes "dancing the slaves" -- a brutal practice of forced exercise prompted by the fact that healthy slaves fetch high prices on the auction block.


1796 In DANSE, Moreau de St.-Mery describes African dance in the Caribbean and the fascination mingled with repulsion with which whites greet the "Calenda," "Bamboula," "Chica," and other secular and sacred dances.




1807 Congressional legislation puts an end to the legal slave trade, but illegal traffic continues until the Civil War.


1828 The African Grove Company, a New York City-based troupe of actors and actresses organized by James Hewlett and featuring Ira Aldridge, before he becomes a legendary Shakespearean actor, dissolves after repeated harassment by groups of "white rowdies."


White performer Thomas Dartmouth "Daddy" Rice adds a new twist to the tradition of mimicking African Americans, and his "Jim Crow" dance earns him the title "father of blackface minstrelsy." Minstrel shows produce two major stereotypes that haunt black performers for years -- the clown and the dandy.


1840 Aspiring black performers must follow "Daddy" Rice's lead and don blackface. African American William Henry Lane, also known as "Juba," claims the title "the greatest dancer of his time." Many believe Lane is the dancer Charles Dickens praises when describing a visit to the Five Points area of New York City in his book AMERICAN NOTES.


1863 President Abraham Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1 and declares that slaves in states or areas of states in rebellion shall be "forever free."




1889 "The Creole Show," an all-black production organized by white producer Sam T. Jack, opens in Boston and moves to New York with a chorus line of 16 singing and dancing girls. The "Cakewalk" finale starts a dance craze. Though the show shuns blackface, scores of others continue the tradition.