The dances performed in Congo Square, save the European styles, shared features with those found in parts of the French and Spanish West Indies. Dance descriptions from those areas often confirm or provide context and descriptions for the dances performed in New Orleans. African choreography, accompanying musical instruments, rhythmic patterns, and singing styles largely continued – despite the change and sometimes interchange of names, multiple spellings of names, and varied dance descriptions. The conditions of slavery – the uprooting of Africans from their homelands, the colonization and enslavement under rulers of different nationalities and languages, the trafficking of enslaved Africans within and outside of regions and countries, and the documentation of information by people of different cultures and languages – all led to such discrepancies.   

Gatherers typically formed circles around the main danc ers and musicians, who stood, sat, squatted or stooped inside. Those who encircled the dancers also participated by singing, clapping, rocking and playing rhythmic instruments like gourd rattles. The image below, “The Bamboula” by E. W. Kemble, is considered the iconic representation of the gatherings in Congo Square. While parts of this depiction hold truth, other parts do not. Kemble’s sketch was published in 1880, approximately 30 years after the gatherings may have ended. This and other sketches accompanied an article in Century Magazine written by George Washington Cable.  

The Calinda was the earliest African-based dance documented in Louisiana and variations of it were still expressed years after the gatherings ended. Other dances included The Bamboula, the Congo dance, the Juba and more. Like the songs that accompanied them, there were sacred as secular dances.  

More Information

Music of New Orleans, Vol. 3: Music of the Dance Halls (Various Artists): Features the rich history of dance band music in the Big Easy.

Robert Farris Thompson, “A Tango” with Ned Sublette
Afropop Worldwide

Second Line Dancing Steps. Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. (0:41)

Damyé / Ladja Martinique This video footage was recorded in 1936 by Katherine Dunham. Ladja or Danmye of Martinique are the same art form and both names are used interchangeably.

Kin Cuba Afro-Cuban Ta Makuende Yaya, Palo Kongo

Kumina Dancing, premier cultural dance of Jamaica. Manchioneal Cultural Group, Jamaica

Kumina Drummers in St. Thomas |part one| Cultural Diversity

Kumina Drummers at Play| part one| Cultural Diversity, Jamaica

La Tumba Francesca 1961. Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South.

Martinique - Bèlè **Mabélo** Traditional Martinique performed by people from the Martinique Island

Michelle Gibson. Second Line Aesthetic in Jacmel – New Waves! Ayiti 2014

Young Congo Dancer from Portobelo

Panama Congo Dancing, Portobelo. Congo dancers perform during Carnival in Portobelo, Panama.

Rumba Guaguanco (Cuba). Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. (3:10)

Rumba Columbia. Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South. (14:56)

Rumba Mantanza. Music Rising at Tulane University – The Musical Cultures of the Gulf South (13:36)

Candombe (History, maps, photos, links for CDs) This source explores the history of candombe, also called tambo or tango, which were banned and participants punished considering the dances a threat to public morals. In 1808, citizens of Montevideo requested that the governor repress these dances and "prohibit the tangós of the blacks."

Daniel, Yvonne. Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

DeFrantz, Thomas F. Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2002.

Dewulf, Jeroen. From the Kingdom of Kongo to Congo Square: Kongo Dances and the Origins of the Mardi Gras Indians. Lafayette: University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, 2017.

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Glass, Barbara. <i.African American Dance: An Illustrated History. Jefferson: McFarland & Co., 2007.

Mendy, Greer Goff. Black Dance in Louisiana: Gaudian of a Culture. New Orleans: Tekrema Center for African Diasporic Cultural Literacy, 2018.

Moreau De Saint-Mery, Mederic-Louis-Elie. A Civilization That Perished: The Last Years of White Colonial Rule in Haiti. Translated, abridged & edited by Ivor D. Spencer. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1985.

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Nettel, Reginald. “Historical Introduction to ‘La Calinda.” Music & Letters. Vol. XXVII. (1946): 59-62.

Winans, Robert (ed). Banjo Roots and Branches (Music in American Life). Champaign: University of Illionis Press, 2018

White, Michael. "Recovery and Rebirth of a New Orleans Jazz Life." Smithsonian Folkways Magazine (Winter-Spring 2015).

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