2022, Uncovering Hidden Histories in American Popular Social Dances 1900-1930s

The histories of American social dances popularized at the turn of the 20th century have been addressed by scholars of African American culture but have been hidden away in much of the teaching, general dance education and in many of the volumes of American dance history. Today, there is examination and celebration of cultural histories, identities and contributions on a world stage and an acknowledgment of these hidden histories in dance.

Dances that were spawned from the Great Migration of African Americans to the northern United States became the backbone of social dance crazes in the early part of the 20th century. From the Cakewalk, first created by enslaved Africans, to Jazz Era of the 1920s and 1930s, America was rich with infectious new music and new dances that became widespread successes. The Black Bottom, the Charleston and the Lindy enlivened and invigorated a nation emerging from social, political and economic traumas (WWI, pandemic, pre-WWII, etc.). From ballrooms to beaches, dances crazes ignited a new national spirit. Later, dances like the energetic Jitterbug and the iconic Twist were followed by Break dancing, Hip-Hop, and many internet dances such as the Cupid Shuffle and the first Tik Tok dance challenge, Renegade.

The Euro-centric adaptations of African movement-inspired dances became wildly popular, yet the histories and origins were often left tucked away. Reviving these dances provides a mechanism to retrieve and illuminate the past and with renewed awareness to celebrate the African American contributions to American culture.
This research considers that in a country of numerous dance traditions, none of which establish a national dance identity, popular social dances have provided a cultural legacy that encompasses dance as a means of celebrating unheard voices.
The presentation will include a very short participatory section.


Lisa A. Fusillo is on the faculty in the Department of Dance at the University of Georgia where she is the UGA Foundation Professor in the Arts.  Lisa began her professional ballet training at the Washington School of Ballet in Washington, D.C. and later trained in New York, London, Russia and Denmark. She holds the Professional Teaching Diploma from the Royal Ballet School (London) and certifications from American Ballet Theatre National Training Curriculum and New York City Ballet Education Department.  Her research focuses on the works of Léonide Massine, Ballets Russes ballerina Nini Theilade, dance in American musical theatre, and various subjects related to the Ballets Russes and American dance.