About the Cakewalk and the Golliwog.
Friday night my voice student (and painting friend) Mike was the featured vocalist at an evening of Ragtime music and dance. He was great.
Included in the performance were members of Triangle Vintage Dance. They shared some fascinating information about the dance known as the Cakewalk, telling us that white dancers picked it up around the turn of the century from minstrel show dancers: "If you think it looks kind of ridiculous, that's because our Cakewalk is actually an imitation of slaves who were themselves imitating the ballroom dances and high-society mannerisms of their masters."
As you can read at the Cakewalk History Page, the Cakewalk dance was invented (called the chalk walk) around 1850 by slaves who imitated a solemn processional dance of the Seminole Indians. The site adds: "Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances."
It developed into a parody of the minuets and promenades danced by the upper-class whites in the "Big House." The slave parodists included "dignified walking, flirting, prancing, strutting, bowing low, waving canes, doffing hats, and a high kicking grand promenade."
For entertainment, plantation owners pitted their best "slave walkers" against each other. The prize would be a hoecake wrapped in cabbage leaf (origin of that takes the cake!) ... and the name "Cakewalk" was now set.
Minstrel show dancers in blackface parodied the Cakewalk, which was itself a parody.
"By the 1890's, the Cakewalk was the hottest thing around ... The Cakewalk was the first American dance to cross over from black to white society as well as from the stage (Minstrel shows) to ballroom. The Cakewalk would be the window for other African-American dances to enter white society in the future. Many of the upper class Summer and Seaside hotels would feature a Cakewalk at the end of the season."
The cakewalk's original meaning was lost; where it had originally been black slaves attempt to mock their superiors and for a minute live in autonomy, it had come to be the bumbling attempts of poor blacks to mimic the manners of whites. The dancers were no longer joking, but were portrayed as genuinely wanting to be like the superiors. More.
While I was googling around on this subject, the "Golliwog's Cakewalk" by Debussy came up and I was sort of horrified to discover this:
The golliwog image, popular in England and other European countries, is found on a variety of items, including postcards, jam jars, paperweights, brooches, wallets, perfume bottles, wooden puzzles, sheet music, wall paper, pottery, jewelry, greeting cards, clocks, and dolls. For the past four decades Europeans have debated whether the Golliwog is a lovable icon or a racist symbol.
The Golliwog began life in 1895 as a story book character ... the story begins with [two white dolls] encountering "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome." The little black "gnome" wore bright red trousers, a red bow tie on a high collared white shirt, and a blue swallow-tailed coat. He was a caricature of American black faced minstrels -- in effect, the caricature of a caricature. She named him Golliwogg.
Upton's Golliwogg character, like the rag doll which inspired it, was ugly. He was often drawn with paws instead of hands and feet. He had a coal black face, thick lips, wide eyes, and a mass of long unruly hair.4 He was a cross between a dwarf-sized Black minstrel and an animal. The appearance was distorted and frightening.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the Golliwog doll was a favorite children's soft toy in Europe. Only the Teddy Bear exceeded the Golliwog in popularity.
The French composer Claude Debussy was so enthralled by the Golliwogs in his daughter's books that one movement of his Children's Corner Suite is entitled "The Golliwog's Cakewalk."
Here's a picture of Peter Estep, coordinator of this event and pianist, and his tuba player, who was magnificient.
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