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Balancing Act: Preserving the Rhythms of Enslaved Africans in America

Nov 03, 2015 | 596 videos
Video by Catharine Axley and Kristine Stolakis

The Juba dance, a precursor to contemporary hambone, originated in West Africa and made its way onto American plantations—and since slave owners banned drums out of fear of secret communication, those who were enslaved used their own bodies to create rhythm. Later in the 19th century, public performances of hambone and tap dancing were used in minstrel shows that depicted racist African American stereotypes. For generations, these remained the typical portrayals of African Americans in entertainment. This short documentary, Balancing Act, by Catharine Axley and Kristine Stolakis tells the story of Demarcello Funes, a young circus performer who teaches hambone and its cultural connections to kids in the Prescott Circus Theatre, an after-school and summer program in West Oakland. It's a reclamation of an exploited tradition, providing valuable teaching moments. "You forget about history, you have to know where you come from," he says. "It was a negative part of African American history that I had to know in order to appreciate performing and being in the circus."

Author: Nadine Ajaka


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