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Evolution of American Popular Dance & Music: A Series Exploring Style/Genre

Next SWAY: A Dance Trilogy production run June 5 and 6, 2015 in NYC.

Next SWAY: A Dance Trilogy production run June 5 and 6, 2015 in NYC.

As is clear from the name of this site, I do love SWAY: A Dance Trilogy. Since the next production run, announced for June 5 & 6 at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC, I’ve been thinking and writing about the production and contemplating what the wonderfully talented people at Dance With Me USA would come up with next!

What has always set SWAY apart for me, in addition to highest caliber dancing and captivating choreography, was the remarkable storyline. One that tells of an American cultural evolution: changes in immigration, music, technology, dance, social mores, and more constantly influencing the population in the ‘melting pot’ that is the United States of America.

Since attending the first SWAY production back in July 2014, I’ve been fascinated by the slice of history represented in the show and love nothing more than ‘mining’ the internet for ‘gems’ of knowledge which helps me better understand the history of music, dance, and cultural changes over the past 100 years or so. What has also been so fascinating to learn, is just how much fusion of different regional and demographic, cultural styles and influences has occurred since very early days of the history of the United States as an entity. I’m not a dancer or musician, although I love dance and music. I am; however, a heck of a researcher.

Late last night, I fell down the research rabbit hole once again, looking up iconic songs from different decades, the history of musical styles and popular social dances in each era. I’m learning so much, I thought it might be of interest to some if I shared some of my research ‘gems’. Figuring out the timelines of various styles and genres, and just how other styles evolved into a particular style/genre of dance or music, is quite involved.

MnMWk1ChaChaLookAtMeAdditionally, I simply adore Meryl Davis‘ and Maksim Chmerkovskiy‘s work on Dancing With the Stars. Season 18, was my first to watch live on Monday nights, and MnM, as they are known, didn’t disappoint. Not only were their performances stunning, but Maks was on fire, creatively. Choreography, costuming, storyline: he delivered fantastically brilliant, Emmy-worthy work, which honored various eras in music and dance, preserving the styles integrity and performance quality. The dance purist knew where to draw the line.

Thus, was born, the idea of sharing information via a blog post about the Evolution of American Popular Dance & Music, ‘fusing’ my research on various styles/genres with at least one of MnM’s dances or a notable performance by another pair, until I run out of dances to share!

Here are the posts in the Series to date:

Post #1, on SWING style.

Edit: 3/22/2015: I just discovered an excellent overview of Cultural Influences of Dance History in the US by the Johns Hopkins University Press:

Dance, like all forms of cultural expression, reflects the society in which it exists. Just as the history of the United States encompasses a broad array of complex influences, so do its dance forms stem from a rich pool of diverse forms. While the ballerina is likely the popular image of dance, the reality is that dance in the United States has embraced and incorporated individual, cultural, and stylistic elements in an ever-changing kaleidoscope that draws from and contributes to artistic, social, religious, cultural, and even political realms. Dance can have many purposes including expression, communication, education, therapy, recreation, or entertainment and may function in personal, political, social, religious, and spiritual environments. This essay cannot fully address all of the implications of dance in the United States, but it offers a look at the breadth of dance in a country whose music and dance reflect and incorporate diverse influences.

For the rest of this extremely well-written primer, go here.


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