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date: 10 August 2020


  • H. Wiley Hitchcock
  •  and Pauline Norton


A 19th-century dance of black American origin, popularized and diffused through imitations of it in blackface minstrel shows (especially their walk-around finales) and, later, vaudeville and burlesque. It seems to have originated in slaves parodying their white owners’ high manners and fancy dances. The name supposedly derives from the prize (presumably a cake) given to the best dancers among a group of slaves, but it may go back little further than the 1890s, when ‘cakewalk contests’ among dancing couples were organized as public entertainments in northern American cities. Although no specific step patterns were associated with the dance, it was performed as a grand march in a parade-like fashion by couples prancing and strutting arm in arm, bowing and kicking backwards and forwards (sometimes with arched backs and pointed toes), and saluting to the spectators (see illustration). The cakewalk was popularized and refined through the all-black musicals of the late 1890s (notably Will Marion Cook’s ...

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