Before you start snoozing, let me say that the history of the Cakewalk is really fascinating, I promise. This dance originated in the antebellum South when black slaves would watch their white masters dancing and would mock their dance by performing exaggerated high stepping, curtsys and bows. Ironically, white slave owners observed this and eventually began mocking and adopting this dance, believing it was a dance of their slaves. They were performed with the same intention as minstrel performances, which lampooned poorer recently-freed slaves. Through this popularization and reinterpretation, the original conception of the Cakewalk was lost in the layers of overt racism that permeated the period.
However as time passed and the popularity of the dance rose, the Cakewalk was redefined again by pioneering black Cakewalk dancers such as Ada Overton, who sought to refine its movements so that it would appeal to both white elites and black Americans and elevate this dance to a more “respectable” form. Through this further transformation of the Cakewalk, the dance became the first mainstream African American dance and paved the way for other such dance forms.
I find the development of things like food, and in this instance dance, fascinating. It’s a beautiful reminder that we don’t exist in a vacuum, but are part of a larger ongoing dialogue that creates our rich and complex humanity.