Celebrating Juneteenth Through Dance

Celebrating Juneteenth Through Dance

It is finally June!  Summer is here and the pandemic is turning the corner.  Independence Day plans are being made for next month, but for a large population of this country independence celebrations are only a few weeks away.  How can that be?  Juneteenth is in a couple of weeks (June 19th).  This celebrates the last of enslaved African-Americans being freed in the United States of America.  People are celebrating Juneteenth through dance and other ways!

The Significance of June 19th

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1st, 1863.  The news didn’t reach many states or enslaved people right away.  Some slave holders went as far as to withhold news from their slaves or moved to Texas which was known as a “haven” for slave owning.  Texas was also the last state to be aware of the proclamation.  In Texas, the enslaved learned of the news more than two years later on June 19th, 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas.  The union soldiers publicly announced the news there.

The reason why the news reached so late in Texas is still debatable but what is not debatable is that celebrations amongst the newly freed started that day!  As we return to the present, it is becoming more apparent of the oppression of black and brown people in this country.  For those who experience the oppression first hand, it is not news but the presence of technology is making it more visibly evident to those who may have not been touched by oppression.  This can be shown through the Emancipation Proclamation mishap itself.  It took more than two years for some parts of the county to be aware of the news and/or to honor it!

How Do We Celebrate This Important Holiday?

There are 47 states that recognize this as an official holiday.  In 2020, Chicago’s Cook County passed a law stating Juneteenth will be a paid holiday for Cook County federal employees starting in 2021.  There are various ways people honor this day including:

  • Continuing to fight for this day to be a national holiday
  • Continuing to fight for racial social justice
  • Parades, street fairs, and concerts
  • BBQ:  it’s a natural response and there are coinciding connections to the south
  • Buy from local black businesses
  • Honoring Black and African culture

Capoeira and Its Connections to this Day

When I think of my own enslaved ancestors, I can’t help but to also think of other people around the world with African ancestry.  I think of how those countries’ cultures shaped them (African-Americans, Afro-Latinos, Afro-Brazilians, etc.) despite us sharing a level of connection originating from our ancestors’ shared land.  One way I honor this holiday is by recognizing this connection despite our separation across lands.

Brazil was sought after by the Portuguese, who placed Africans to be slaves there.  The Afro-Brazilian slaves adapted to the culture and their slave owners in a unique way.  Afro-Brazilian slaves prepared to defend themselves against their slave owners, and for an uprising, by secretly practicing martial arts.  Of course, as slaves you can’t just practice fighting and defending yourselves on plantations without experiencing repercussions.  They cleverly hid their practices by disguising their fighting as dance.  This was how Capoeira the dance-like martial art form was born.

All around the world, people practice Capoeira today.  It is very much practiced as a sport but its unique dance-like influences are an essential characteristic.  There is a group-singing call and response element that accompanies the art form, as well as percussive instruments played in the background.  Due their unique physical stance compared to other martial art forms, there is a significant level of flexibility and stamina needed.  Capoeiristas (those who practice capoeira)  keep their body low and close to the ground, often making their swinging kick appear disproportionately high.  Flowing, aerial moves are also very common in this art form.  The importance of community can be seen when watching capoeiristas  practice in the middle of a circle with peers clapping and playing instruments.

How Will You Celebrate?

When exploring Black and African culture in different ways, try West African, Capoeira, footwork, Chicago Steppin’, or hip hop classes to celebrate Juneteenth through dance.

Juneteenth | History, Meaning, Flag, Importance, & Facts | Britannica

What Is Juneteenth? – HISTORY

What Is Juneteenth? African American History Blog | The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (pbs.org)

Juneteenth (nationaltoday.com)

capoeira | Description, History, & Facts | Britannica

How Brazilian Capoeira Evolved From a Martial Art to an International Dance Craze | At the Smithsonian | Smithsonian Magazine

Illinois legislators consider following Cook County in making Juneteenth an official holiday – Chicago Tribune

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