Dancing Through History (Black History Month Edition): Master Juba
It seems as though this month has flown by! With that bein said, it's only right to cherish the time that we do have of this historical month and celebrate our heritage as much as possible. To close out my special edition of black history month blog posts, I'd like to celebrate the life of the great Master Juba.
Master Juba, originally known as William Henry Lane, was born in 1825 as a free black man from Rhode Island. Lane became known as one of the most famous minstrel performers of his time; though it didn't come easy. Minstrel shows were originally performed by white men (usually Irish working men), that would put on "black faces" and make fun of African Americans and slave culture for entertainment. Whites were the only ones allowed to perform in minstrel shows, until Lane decided to join in on the show. The only way he was allowed to dance on the same stage, was if he agreed to paint himself in blackface just like all the others. (Can you believe they would force a black man, to paint over his already black face?) I believe that Lane and other black performers of this time were forced to do so, in order for the whites to have the same effect and focus on making fun/insulting black image and culture. Luckily, William was such a talented dancer, that eventually, he no longer had to wear black face and could perform as his authentic self.
William was extremely talented in creating his own rhythmic movements that went along with the musicians right beside him. He would shuffle his feet, spin on his toes, and spring into air like no other! Known as the man who created tap dance, many have named him, "the greatest dancer known". The name Master Juba, means "the dancinest fellow ever was" and he wore that name proudly. Juba is a common salve name that many slave musicians and dancers took on as their own. Slaves back then couldn't play instruments or even communicate most of the time while working on plantations. The "patting juba" was a dance that came along while the slaves patted their bodies, stomped their feet, and clapped their hands to make their own music. Juba's contribution to tap dance incorporated a fusion between this and the clog inspired Irish dances he learned from Irish neighbors. Juba's fame grew the more he performed, and soon his name topped over many white performers. In addition to performing, Juba also competed against (and defeated) many dancers, including Jack Diamond, known as the best white dancer known.
Unfortunately, Juba passed away at the extremely young age of 27. The exact cause of death isn't known, but with his physically demanding career and his poor diet, many believe his body simply gave out on him. Though we have lost a true legend, his legacy lives within all of us. I think he can teach us all that nurturing your craft and overcoming naysayers is the recipe for success!
Let us not forget that even though this year's Black History Month is coming to a close, Black History lives on forever! Take the time to learn your history and your heritage whenever you can! There is so much power in embracing your culture and the struggle of those that have come before you. Their inspiration lives on, and can just as easily radiate through you. The possibilities are endless! So let's get moving, and start taking your place in history!
Your Beautiful Black Queen