A performative, competitive dance known as the chalk line walk
first appeared around the 1850s on the plantations along the Gulf Coast
. Its origins lay in the African
-derived dance known as the bamboula
-- also the name of a drum -- and it was performed in New Orleans,
where on Sundays slaves were allowed to congregate. In their limited freedom, they not only danced the bamboula, but also dances like the pile, chactas
and the carabine
in Congo Square
and at their masters' homes. Louis Moreau Gottschalk
, a local creole composer was inspired by the dances and wrote "Bamboula, dance des nègres, Op.2"
in 1848. By the 1850s, the bamboula's popularity had spread to Florida
, where it possibly mixed with the dance traditions of the Seminole
. It eventually developed into the cakewalk
, which quickly became popular throughout the Gulf Coast.
Whereas the minstrelsy
craze of the 1840s-1860s was the first major cross-racial American musical exchange, cakewalk's heyday from the 1850s-1890s was probably the second and importantly, a reversal. Minstrelsy was a product of white musicans seeking to simultaneuosly imitate and mock black customs, but cakewalks were initially produced by black performers imitating and mocking whites. Thus began a long history of back and forth musical and cultural dialogues that have been behind nearly every significant innovation in American music.