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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Buck Dancing

by Bruce E. Baker, 2006

See also: Clogging; Step Dancing.

Buck dancing is a folk dance that originated among African Americans during the era of slavery. It was largely associated with the North Carolina Piedmont and, later, with the blues. The original buck dance, or "buck and wing," referred to a specific step performed by solo dancers, usually men; today the term encompasses a broad variety of improvisational dance steps.

In contemporary usage, "buck dancing" often refers to a variety of solo step dancing to fiddle-based music done by dancers primarily in the Southern Appalachians. Among North Carolinians, buck dancing is differentiated from clogging and flatfooting by the use of steps higher off the floor, a straight and relatively immobile torso, and emphasis on steps that put the dancer on his or her toes rather than heels.

Reference:

Mike Seeger and Ruth Pershing, Talking Feet: Buck, Flatfoot, and Tap: Solo Southern Dance of the Appalachian, Piedmont, and Blue Ridge Mountain Regions (1992).

Additional Resources:

Emmylou Harris: Buck Dancing, YouTube video, 3:28, posted by 1000Magicians, Oct 13, 2010. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DsIBS0l7Hqg (accessed October 11, 2012).

Driggs, Jeff. "A Brief History of Clog Dancing." Doubletoe Times Magazinehttp://www.doubletoe.com/history.htm (accessed October 11, 2012).

Bradley, Sandra Lee. "The Social Context of Buck Dancing in North Carolina in the 1940s." M.S. Thesis, University of Washington. Seattle, Wash. 1978.

Image Credits:

Duke University Professor Thomas F. DeFrantz: Buck, Wing & Jig. Duke University on YouTube. http://youtu.be/A34OD4eA17o (accessed February 9, 2015).

Authors: 

Comments

Comment: 

i am still in tears watching this video

Comment: 

As an elderly man with a Scott-Irish ancestry I disagree with the idea or theory that any dancing or music originated from African or from American Indian or any nationality exclusively. For example, Scott-Irish immigrants brought not only forms of what is now called Bluegrass or Mountain music, but a form of dance to this type up beat music. Further, many so-called traditional bluegrass tunes (or reels or jig) derived from Scott-Iris tunes. The Dance to these tunes called Buck dance, Irish Jig or reel), or whatever, was brought along with it which probably included some moves Celtic in origin. Further,The instruments used in Bluegrass music can be claimed by many origins. Who made the first Violin? Mandolin? (gourd with strings), Bass Fiddle? (string stretched through a wash tub), Banjo? (drum with strings stretched across it)?, Guitar? Dobro? The same can be said about dance. Immigrants from many countries brought instruments and dances and songs to America. To claim one nationality as the originator is ludicrous. If you weren't there you don't know who stretched the first string across a drum or wood or who moved a certain way to the sound it created. We see hints of ancestry in dance depending on who is watching.

Comment: 

Considering that the cradle of mankind is Africa, it is not "ludicrous" to connect dances, whether as a form of worship or entertainment, or musical instruments as a means of physical and/or spiritual communication conduits, to African or African Americans.

The Celtic religion and therefore any culture that emanated from it, developed over time and geography. Scott-Irish tunes, bluegrass, mountain music, and the dances that fit the beats of these genres are not organic to any of those groups. They were transferred during migrations and adapted to the burgeoning cultures.

If we're talking "original-original", we are talking Africa and the expansion to other areas from that one area.

African Americans (which isn't a nationality) would have been exposed to Scott-Irish dancing once transported to the Americas, however, their ancestors would have had limited exposure to those groups due to distance and time. The Celtic tradition has Spanish, Roman, Mediterranean, British, and North African influences. Each of these groups was influenced by another that preceded it.

So, while buck-dancing can now be associated with different groups of people, it is because of adaptation. Or maybe appropriation because it largely recognized as a white or European tradition. It's the same with swing dancing--another dance developed primarily by black Americans. The cultural significance diminished as it was "discovered" in black communities and then embraced, changed, and popularized by other groups of people

The question of adaptation is what makes the difference. Buck-dancing was also popular due to minstrel shows, which undeniably points to its origination in the black community!

So yes, buck dancing did originate from Africa but, its past iteration is not as pertinent or recognizable as its present use. And we as black people are the minority, so who are we to say that something has its origin in our culture...if the majority likes it well enough or can imitate it in an acceptable way, black people can look forward to having it appropriated and unassociated with our culture.

When it can't be acceptably imitated, it's either mocked, begrudgingly ignored, or (miracle of miracles) kept as a marker of our specific ethnic group! Yayy for negro spirituals.

Comment: 

Well stated McRay! It is fun to claim credit as an originator, but it is all conjecture when you are trying to spam three centuries with no clear documentation.

Comment: 

You have it incorrectly attributed to the wrong people.
It's was called BUCK Dancing from our American Natives. American Indian Men were called Bucks, The Indian Bucks adapted this style of dancing from what they learned from those who Clogged. The Appalachian peoples called it Buck Dancing.

Comment: 

History has different interpretations. If you have reference citations that support this alternative view, please list them. It will help researchers. Thanks!

Kelly Eubank, Government & Heritage Library of the State Library of NC

Comment: 

I think it was good to show this, I am black and it is not offensive, I live in the real world and like to see the truth. the term coon, and the n word were and are words which are used by demonic people who enslaved black people. Then treated them less than human, It is also used by ignorant black people whom of which call themselves the same thing that their demon slave owner called them..why should this be hidden, I saw one of your commentators complain over this. Well if she wants to hide facts from the children then that is her prerogative.
Many black people today still buck dance for massa. they are normally self-haters.

Comment: 

I am searching for good instructional DVDs that feature clogging/flat foot dance steps & ran across your reply to who started that form of dance. Your answer was well worded & cool headed. Do you know of a good clog instruction DVD for new learners. Thanks

Comment: 

I find the illustration you used to be offensive. I would like to use this information in a 3rd grade class, but I'm not going to point my children to a page that uses the pejorative term "Coon," which is as bad as the n-word in my opinion. Just because something is archived at Duke does not make it appropriate for illustrative purposes on a website such as this. Surely there was something better you could have chosen?

Comment: 

Dear Liz,

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment.  I'm sorry you found the historical illustration offensive and questionable for an elementary classroom.  We appreciate you letting us know about the mistmatch between the illustration and this entry.

I have removed the sheet music link and have replaced it with a video by Duke University professor Thomas De Frantz demonstrating historic African American social dances.  It's a short and very engaging video that illustrates the elements of the "buck" and "wing" and also has contemporary dance relevance.  

Thank you again for sharing your comment.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

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