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Free to Dance Dance Timeline

1921 "Shuffle Along," by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, based on the book by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, is the first all-black Broadway musical to debut in over a decade. Opening at the 63rd Street Theater on May 21, it's a smash, launching numerous careers and a new era of opportunity for black performers.

Buddy Bradley "doctors" white musicals without receiving credit. He becomes famous in London for creating dances for Jessie Matthews.

1923 The black song and dance craze reaches a fever pitch when the "Charleston" is the big hit of the Broadway show "Runnin' Wild."

1925 Rhodes scholar Alain LeRoy Locke proclaims the birth of "the New Negro" in his anthology of stories, poems, and essays entitled THE NEW NEGRO. It becomes the definitive work of the Harlem Renaissance.

1926 Modern dancer Martha Graham gives her first concert in New York after leaving the Denishawn School in 1923, and performs solo in the "Greenwich Village Follies."


1927 - Helen Tamiris

1927 - Bill Robinson
Hemsley Winfield premieres in his mother's play "Wade in the Water" at Greenwich Village's Cherry Lane Theatre. Later, he performs Oscar Wilde's "Salome."

White dancer and choreographer Helen Tamiris performs "Negro Spirituals." Chief choreographer of the Federal Theatre for the Works Project Administration, Tamiris creates dances that reflect strong political convictions and a belief, held by many New Moderns, that American dance must use indigenous sources.

Lew Leslie's "Blackbirds of 1928" opens on May 9 and makes an overnight sensation of 50-year-old Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. Earl "Snake Hips" Tucker also makes his debut. His signature is the old southern dance known as the "Snake Hip," a relic of the even older one from Africa. In the 1950s, Elvis Presley does a calmer, but no less provocative version of it.

1928 Martha Graham premiers one of American modern dance's early protest works, "Immigrant," with sections entitled "Steerage" and "Strike."

"Black Thursday" at the New York Stock Exchange -- October 24 -- ushers in the Great Depression, but American spirits are still upbeat as "Happy Days Are Here Again" becomes a popular song in November.

1930 Ballet Negre, a black ballet company started by young Chicagoan Katherine Dunham, gives one performance and disbands in 1931.

1931 Hemsley Winfield and Edna Guy share the stage in a concert dubbed "First Negro Dance Recital in America" at Manhattan's Chanin Building on April 29.

Randolph Sawyer is the first African American to dance the role of Blackamoor in Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" in a modern production by the white Dance Repertory Company of Gluck-Sandor and Felicia Sorel.

1932 Katherine Dunham opens a dance school in Chicago; Talley Beatty is one of her students.

The socially conscious New Dance Group is born. It is one of the many units of the Workers' Dance League,which includes Red Dancers and Rebel Dancers, whose works have titles like "Eviction," "Hunger," "Unemployment," "Anti-Wary Cycle," and "Scottsboro."


1933 - Workers' Theatre
Hemsley Winfield appears in and choreographs dances for the Metropolitan Opera Company's production of "The Emperor Jones," and performs the role of the Witch Doctor. In Chicago, Katherine Dunham lands her first leading role in Ruth Page's West Indian ballet, "La Guiablesse."

Hall Johnson's "Run Lil Chillun" opens on Broadway. Doris Humphrey is the choreographer.

"What Shall the Negro Dance About?" is the subject of a forum organized by the Workers' Dance League, featuring dancers Hemsley Winfield and Ad Bates, and sculptor Augusta Savage.