Black Bottom (dance)

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Black Bottom sheet music

Black Bottom refers to a dance which became popular in the 1920s, the famed Roaring Twenties that also was known as the Jazz Age and the era of the Flapper. The Black Bottom could be danced solo or as a couple.

Originating among African Americans in the rural South, the Black Bottom eventually was adopted by mainstream American culture - or, more cynically, appropriated by white society - and became a national craze in the 1920s. The dance was most famously performed by Ziegfeld Follies star Ann Pennington, who danced the Black Bottom in a Broadway revue put on by Ziegfeld's rival George White in 1926.


The dance originated in New Orleans in the first decade of the 20th century. Jelly Roll Morton, jazz player and composer, wrote the tune "Black Bottom Stomp" with its name referring to Detroit's Black Bottom area.

"The Original Black Bottom Dance" was printed in 1919. It came from an earlier dance called "Jacksonville Rounders' Dance" printed in 1907. The word "Rounder" was a synonym for "pimp." Both "dance-songs" were written by black pianist, composer and dancer Perry Bradford and were based on a dance done in Jacksonville, Florida "way back." One professional dancer stated, "That dance is as old as the hills."

Sheet music from the mid-20s identifies the composers as Gus Horsley and Bradford and claims the dance was introduced by the African American dancer and choreographer Billy Pierce. The sheet music's cover photograph features dancer Stella Doyle, who performed primarily in cabarets.

The dance was well known among semi-rural blacks across the South. A similar dance with many variations had been commonly used in tent show performances, and "Bradford and Jeanette" had used it as a finale.

The dance was featured in the Harlem show Dinah in 1924, and then performed by Ann Pennington and Tom Patricola in the musical-comedy revue George White's Scandals of 1926 on Broadway, whereupon it became a national craze.[1] The Black Bottom ended up overtaking the popularity of the Charleston, eventually becoming the number one social dance. Some dance critics noted that by the time it became a fad in American society in the mid-20s, it resembled the Charleston. Both dances can be performed solo or as a couple and feature exuberant moves.

The African American choreographer Billy Pierce, who is credited on "Black Bottom Dance" sheet music with having introduced the dance, was an associate with his fellow African American choreographer Buddy Bradley.[2] Working out of Pierce's dance studio in New York City, the African American Bradley devised dance routines for Tom Pericola and other Broadway performers.

Dance Steps[edit]

The rhythm of the Black Bottom is based on the Charleston.[3] Bradford's version printed along with the sheet music:

  • Hop down front then Doodle back, (Doodle means slide)
  • Mooch to your left then Mooch to the right
  • Hands on your hips and do the Mess Around,
  • Break a Leg until you're near the ground (Break a Leg is a hobbling step)
  • Now that's the Old Black Bottom Dance

Instructions for the Mooch are "Shuffle forward with both feet. Hips go first, then feet."


"Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is a song by Ma Rainey which makes obvious allusions rather than being dance music. The title Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was used for a 1982 play by August Wilson, showing the exploits and experiences of African-Americans.

The comedy musician Spike Jones who became popular in the 1940s performed a jaunty cover of the "Black Bottom." His version released on 78 RPM records repeated a single measure of a piano solo in the middle of the song several times, each time continuing with a loud "crack!" as a joke to make the record sound broken.


  1. ^ "Tom Patricola". Sonny Watson's Street Swing. Retrieved 21 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Gates, Henry Louis, et. al. (2009). Harlem Renaissance Lives from the African American National Biography. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 396. ISBN 978-0195387957. 
  3. ^ Marshall Winslow Stearns; Jean Stearns (1968). Jazz Dance The Story of American Vernacular Dance. Da Capo Press. pp. 110–111. ISBN 978-0-306-80553-0. 

External links[edit]