While most of us know a cake walk to be a joyful celebration where the best bakers have an opportunity to show off their skills, it wasn’t always that way! In fact, the cake walk had its origins in Afro-American history:
The cakewalk was a pre-Civil War dance originally performed by slaves on plantation grounds. The uniquely American dance was first known as the “prize walk”; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, “prize walk” is the original source for the phrases “takes the cake” and “cakewalk.”From NPR: The Extraordinary Story of Why a Cakewalk Wasn’t Always Easy
The dance soon became a ragtime favorite, with many musical versions available including the sheet music below. So when you circle that cake table at Birmingham Historical Society’s annual meeting on February 27th, consider its origins!
Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a black American entertainment having a cake as prize for the most accomplished steps and figures in walking; a stage dance developed from walking steps and figures typically involving a high prance with backward tilt; an easy task.”
The Cakewalk seems to have begun in the days of slavery, when black folks strutted along in a fanciful manner in imitation of formal white dancing. Supposedly the name comes from the custom of the master awarding a cake to the couple who put on the best performance. The dance came back around in the twentieth century when white folks started to imitate the black version.From Mary Miley’s Roaring Twenties, “Just What is a Cake Walk”?
Join us for the BHS cakewalk on February 27th. And bring your favorite childhood cake. More information on when and where HERE.