“The Renaissance period in entertainment began in 1921 with
, a lively musical performed in New York”.
It was written and produced by four black men: F. E. Miller, Aubry Lyle, Eubie Blake, and Noble Sissle. The show lasted in New York for more than a year. It traveled on the road for more than two years. Two songs from the musical ( “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find A Way”) became classics used for years thereafter.
Between 1921 and 1939, forty black musicals with lots of dancing and chorus lines were produced. There were many jobs to be had by Black dancers. “it was these black shows that began the precision dancing that has been expected of show chorus lines ever since”.
There were also jobs in exclusive clubs in Harlem where waiters and cast members were usually all white.
Dance crazes swept the country during the Renaissance period but one of the most famous was the Charleston. Though it was first introduced in a Black show called
, it didn’t really become popular until James Weldon Johnson wrote the hit song, “Charleston”. Elida Webb was one of the first Black choreographers for Broadway and claimed to have invented the Charleston. While many disputed her claim, no one argued with the fact that she choreographed the dance for early Black shows and influenced the Charleston craze. “Music scholars have traced the Charleston back to Africa where similar movements were featured in the dances of the Ashanti people”.
Our dance from this era will depict a great chorus line of the twenties with emphasis on the Charleston. We will also feature solo dancers who will portray Elida Webb and other Black entertainers she discovered such as Lena Horne and Josephine Baker. Of course, big band music from one of the great band leaders of that time such as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong will be used. The students will choose the music they like best. We will use photographs from the works of noted Black photographer James Van Der Zee as inspirations for dance choreography.