Just What is a Cake Walk?

The Cakewalk was popular in the Twenties—and in other decades before and after. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a black American entertainment having a cake as prize for the most accomplished steps and figures in walking; a stage dance developed from walking steps and figures typically involving a high prance with backward tilt; an easy task.” 

The Cakewalk seems to have begun in the days of slavery, when black folks strutted along in a fanciful manner in imitation of formal white dancing. Supposedly the name comes from the custom of the master awarding a cake to the couple who put on the best performance. The dance came back around in the twentieth century when white folks started to imitate the black version.

Below are a few short clips of cakewalks in the early twentieth century, featuring both black and white dancers. Who’s imitating whom? By now, it’s hard to tell.

And here are some more great images:


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Published in: on April 3, 2011 at 7:45 am  Leave a Comment  
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