Dances with Style! – Juba
What is Stylized Dance?
Sometimes music makes us want to tap our toes and move our feet – especially if that music is a dance! In classical music, the word dance can mean the steps that dancers make while dancing, but it can also mean music written to go along with dance steps.
Classical music is full of dances that people used in history for actual dancing. Those kinds of dances are called social dance. But that’s not the only kind of dance in classical music! Composers throughout history loved the sound and feel of dance so much that they also wrote stylized dances, which are musical pieces based on the idea of dance, but which weren’t meant for people to literally dance along.
You can think of it this way:
Social dance is dance for moving, and stylized dance is dance for listening!
Or try this:
Social dance is dance for your body, and stylized dance is dance for your ears!
Here’s another way to think of it:
In stylized dance, a composer puts their own unique style into a musical dance!
Let’s explore some stylized dances from history. First, we’ll look at the social dance version of each dance: its basic rhythm and emotion, and how people danced to it. Then we’ll look at stylized versions of each dance, and see what unique style each composer put into each dance!
We’re going to use some special musical terms to talk about the nuts and bolts of dance music. To take a deep dive into the words we use to talk about music, check out ICAN’s series, The Shape of Music!
As we explore these dances, remember one important thing: whether it’s a social dance or a stylized dance, if you feel like dancing along, then dance!
The juba is a dance created by African Americans during the time of slavery in the United States. Like spirituals, which were worship songs created by the enslaved community, the juba was a way for Black people to take back power and create their own culture. The name juba probably comes from a dance from the African continent called giouba.
In a traditional African-American juba, two people dance in the middle of a circle of people who perform body percussion. Body percussion is when you use your own body to create rhythmic music, instead of drums or other percussion instruments. People who were enslaved were usually not allowed to have drums, so body percussion like clapping and slapping knees allowed people to create dance music without any instruments. This video shows what juba body percussion is like.
The music is in 4/4 or 2/4 time, which means that its beats come in groups of even numbers. A juba also uses syncopated rhythm, which means that its strong beats come in unexpected places – not at the beginning of each bar, but in the middle!
African-American composers in the twentieth century were eager to make their unique voices heard, and one way they did that was using the juba as a stylized dance in their music, instead of European dances like the minuet. Here’s a Juba by the Canadian-American composer R. Nathaniel Dett (1882-1943), composed in 1913. It really captures a sense of joy!
The American composer Florence Price (1887-1953) was fond of the juba and used it in many of her classical compositions. This Juba is the third movement of her First Symphony, which she composed in 1932. She put this Juba in the part of the symphony where Mozart would have put a minuet!
To learn more about stylized dances and composers who wrote them, check out the links throughout this article!
You can also read more about the terms in this article by looking them up in Britannica Kids, or check out Music and How It Works from DK! Older kids can check out definitions in books like The Oxford Dictionary of Music or The Harvard Dictionary of Music. You can look for these books at your local library!