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Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances

Azizi 27 Apr 05 - 08:58 AM
Azizi 27 Apr 05 - 09:14 AM
Azizi 27 Apr 05 - 09:25 AM
Azizi 27 Apr 05 - 10:36 AM
GUEST,BanjoRay 28 Apr 05 - 06:12 AM
GUEST, Azizi 28 Apr 05 - 08:57 AM
GUEST,Rapaire 28 Apr 05 - 09:11 AM
GUEST,Banjo1925@aol.com 28 Apr 05 - 09:51 AM
wysiwyg 28 Apr 05 - 10:59 AM
Mark Ross 28 Apr 05 - 11:10 AM
Charley Noble 25 Mar 06 - 12:14 PM
Barry Finn 25 Mar 06 - 03:50 PM
GUEST 05 Nov 09 - 02:58 PM
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Subject: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Azizi
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 08:58 AM

I'm starting this thread because I had gone off-topic a couple of times in the Walking On The Green Grass Thread" by talking about The Cake Walk in considering the meaning of this rhyme:

"Oh walk chalk, Ginger Blue!
Git over double trouble.
You needn' min' de wedder
So's de win' don't blow you double."
-the second verse of "Gooseberry Wine'from Thomas W.Talley's "Negro Folk Rhymes", p. 41} [the page number and last sentence corrected from the quote in that thread]

See here Walking On The Green Grass Thread if you're wondering how the discussion got from "Walking On The Green Grass to "Oh Walk Chalk, Ginger Blue!"

In that thread I wrote that "walking the chalk line" was a precusor to dancing "The Chalk Line" and continued with the comment that

"Getting over double trouble" is a floating phrase that can be found in a number of folk rhymes. I interprete this verse as an exhortation from one Black person to another {or to Black people in general} to be extra careful. Regardless of the weather {what ever comes their way}..they must walk a chalk line {walk as carefully as they would walk doing the chalk line dance}"

-anip-

This lead to a very interesting comment from Q {hich you can read by clicking on that hyperlink above. Q's comment then prompted me to post this:

"The Chalk Line Walk as it was originally known in 1850 in the Southern plantations and became very popular from 1895-1905 with a resurgence around 1915. It originated in Florida by the African-American slaves who got the basic idea from the Seminole Indians (couples walking solemnly). Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances.

The Breakdown and Walk Around were a Minstrel parody, mixed, which later was to be named the Cakewalk was one of the main sources of the Chalk Line Walk. These "Walkers" as they were called, would walk a straight line and balance buckets of water on their heads. Over time the dance evolved into a exaggerated parody of the white, upper class ballroom dancers who would imitate the mannerisms of the "Big House" (or masters house) with such dignified walking, bowing low, waving canes, doffing hats, in a high kicking grand promenade."

For more on this dance see http://www.streetswing.com/histmain/z3cake1.htm

(Sorry, but for some reason, I can't hyperlink to that very informative site}.
-snip-

Also, with regard to the chalk line, here's a quote that is excerpted from Lynne Fauley Emery's book "Black Dance From 1619 to Today"{ Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton Books,1988, p.92}
"Entertainer Tom Fletcher heard stories about the Cake-Walk from his grandfather, who had won many prizes in calkwalking on the plantation. Fletcher quoted his grandfather as saying "Your grandmother and I, we won all the prizes and were taken from plantation to plantation."

Flether related that his grandfather had told him, that when the Cake-Walk began it was known as the 'chalk-line walk'.

"Sometimes on pleasant evenings, boards would be laid down for an impromptu stage before the verandah so the guest could have a good view of the proceedsings and a real shingig would take place with singing and dancing. The cake-walk. in that section and at that time, was known as the chalk line walk. There was no prancing, just a straight walk on a path made by turns and so forth, along with the dancers made their way with a pail of water on their heads. The couple that was the most erect and spilled the least or no water at all was the winner." {Tom Fletcher, "The Tom Fletcher Story-100 Years of Negro In Show Business" [New York: Burdge and Company, Ltd. 1954, p. 19]

-snip-

This thread, then, is an invitation to share any information or thoughts you might have on The Cake Walk and any other ante-bellum dances that were performed by enslaved African Americans and/or others.

Thanks!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Azizi
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 09:14 AM

Using the 'Lyrics and Knowledge Search' feature I found some earlier threads that referenced The Cake-Walk dance {and not the phrase that was used to erroneously describe how easy the Iraq war would be}

See this 2000 thread Colored Aristocracy

and also see this 2001 thread What is Buckdancing?

In that last thread Brian wrote that The Cake Walk was derived from the Irish Céilidh Dance called "The Sixteen Hand Reel".

Does anyone have any opinion on this?


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Azizi
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 09:25 AM

BTW, I don't agree with the statement that the African Americans got the idea of the Chalk Walk from the Seminole Indians.

I think that that the Chalk Line may have started as a parody of White formal ballroom dances such as the quadrille.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Azizi
Date: 27 Apr 05 - 10:36 AM

There are a number of references to the "Buck & Wing" dance in folk songs. See this quote from page 90 of Emery's book "Black Dance..":

"The Pigeon Wing appears to have been performed over a large geographical area. References were made to the Pigeon Wing freom South Carolina to Texas, and from Indiana to Mississippi. Horace Overstreet, of Beaumont, Texas, remembered the dance by another name. Overstreet stated that on Christmas and July 4, a big dance would be held on their plantation. '...jus' a reg'lar old breakdown dance. Some was dancin' Swing de Corner, and some in de middle de floor cuttin' de chicken wing.'

Fannie Berry described the Pigeon Wing as follows "Dere was cuttin de peigeons wings-dat was flippin yo' arms an legs roun' an' holdin ya' neck stiff like a bird do'.

The Pigeon Wing and the Buck dance appear as authentic dances of the Negro on the plantation, much before they were picked up for the minstrel shows and billed as the Buck and Wing"

{credits to: Lyle Saxon, Edward Dreyer, And Robert Tallant, comp;, Work Progress Administration Louisiana Writer's Project, "Gumbo Ya-Ya" Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Co., 1945, Part 3, p. 160} and {Virginia Writers' Projects, "Negro In Virginia", p. 92}

-snip-

In his book "Negro Folk Rhymes" {originally published in 1922}, Thomas W. Talley writes that 'cuttin the Pigeon's wing' and 'skinnin' the cat' in the song "Juba" refer to dance steps.

Too often these words are taken literally.

It is also interesting to me how social dance steps are reintroduced under different names. For instance-the 'Piegeon Wing' dance sounds alot like the 1960s dances 'The Chicken' and 'The Funky Chicken'...


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: GUEST,BanjoRay
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 06:12 AM

The late great fiddler Melvin Wine from Coppen, West Virginia used to play a tune called Walk Chalk Chicken With A Necktie On, a superb dance tune with a very crooked rhythm. I wonder where he got it? I'm sure a lot of old time "white" tunes came from the African-American tradition.
Cheers
Ray


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: GUEST, Azizi
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 08:57 AM

I appreciate that info, BanjoRay.

I've never heard of that song and would be interested in learning more about it.

Would you [or anyone else who knows them]post the words to that song or provide a link to the words?

Thanks!


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dan
From: GUEST,Rapaire
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 09:11 AM

Growing up in Illinois along the Mississippi, I always heard that the cake-walk was done to win a prize, a cake (and hence its name). This was told to me by a self-described "old colored man" who lived down the block from me and who remembered "slave days." He'd moved to Illinois from Missouri in 1868, when he was 18 -- when I knew him in 1954 he was 103 years old and still VERY sharp (although "I can't git around like I used to"). He would take up his cane and try to show us how he used to "cake-walk" while he whistled a tune.

But we were very young then, and while it was interesting and all we didn't pay a lot of attention. Now I can't even remember his name, if I ever knew it. We always called him "Uncle" anyway (as in, "Let's go see Uncle.") His wife had died in the 1930s, and he lost a son in WW2 driving for the Red Ball Express in Europe.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: GUEST,Banjo1925@aol.com
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 09:51 AM

Kerry Mills, composer of the song 'At a Georgia Camp Meeting' describes the cakewalk as an eccentric, strutting dance that was very popular in the mid-1890's. His song, which was the forerunner of the two-step and fox trot, was one of the greatest cakewalk tunes of the time.

It is of interest to note that the University of Vermont, during it's annual winter carnival, used to have a cakewalk competition put on by the various fraternities, where two brothers of each fraternity would 'walk for the cake' to the University Band Leader, Joe Lechner's tune "Cotton Babes" which he composed just for this event. The event went the way of the minstrel shows following World War II.

And, if memory serves me correctly, I do believe the prize was a cake.


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: wysiwyg
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 10:59 AM

They didn't mention cake walks, but there was a great program recently on "Woodsongs" (archived online) about the African history of the banjo, and examples of the different playing styles evolving through the turn of the century. There was mention, tho, of other songs that crossed over from the African American and co-opted (absorbed) by white culture, and featured among others was a professor Dr. Joan Dickerson, who may be able to offer more informtaion specifdic to the Cake Walk. Her contact info is at Woodsongs as well.

CLICK HERE to a page that includes the presenters' websites and a link to play the show on your computer (audio and video). That show also can be saved as a .wmv file onto a CD-ROM for portable educational use.

~Susan


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Mark Ross
Date: 28 Apr 05 - 11:10 AM

Fiddler Alan Jabbour told me that a tendency to dwell on the V chord in a fiddle tune is a probable indication that it's origins are African American.

Mark Ross


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Charley Noble
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 12:14 PM

Azizi et al-

I believe this discussion has some relavance to the mysterious title of my song "Sail On, Chalk Ginger Blue." "Sails chalk ginger blue" was the pet expression of a young captain from my current home town in the early 1850's to describe his ship tearing along through the waves at top speed, everything perfectly balanced. Now this expression makes even more sense!

Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Folklore: The Cake-Walk & Other Plantation Dances
From: Barry Finn
Date: 25 Mar 06 - 03:50 PM

Another dance of interest from slave times is the Buzzard Lope, described in Lydia Parrish's "Slaves Songs of the Georgia Sea Islands". It was danced to the song/tune;

"Throw My Body Anywhere"

Throw my body anywhere
In that ol field
Throw my body anywhere
In that ol field

Don't care where you throw me, Lord
In that ol field
Long as Jesus loves
In that ol field

The dance imitates the buzzard's walking awkwardly around the imaginary dead body of a cow (or a person lying down representing a dead cow) & juming over the body, arms flaping like wings, hunched over at the midsection & head bobing towards the ground by streching the neck, buzzard like, pecking at flesh.

Barry


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Subject: RE: Cake walk transition from dance to fundraiser
From: GUEST
Date: 05 Nov 09 - 02:58 PM

I have read with interest all the information about the cake walk dance that began on the plantations and grew in popularity through the earliest decades of the 20th century.

I am wondering how the transition happened from the dance to the fundraiser? It was very prevalent in the South.

I remember having a cake walk at the Halloween festival when I was in grade school in the early sixties. There was no dancing involved. We bought a ticket. Then we walked around a circle to music. When the music stopped, the person on the lucky square won the cake. It was similar to musical chairs.

My mother (born in 1932) said cake walks (fundraisers) were very popular when she was a girl.

Does anyone know how or when the fundraiser type of cake walk began? I would appreciate any information.


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