Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Pigeon Wing, The Buck & Wing, and Buck Dancing, Part I (information & videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a two part series on the 19th century dance known as the "buck & wing", and "buck jumping" dances that derived from it.

Part I provides information about & video demonstrations of buck & wing, buck dancing, and several wing movements in tap dancing.

Part II of this series features information & comments about "buck jumping", a style of dancing that is closely associated with members of New Orleans Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs & New Orleans second line paraders.

Click for Part II.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owner.

Disclaimer: I'm not a dancer or a dance historian. My comments are shared in the interest of eliciting more information & opinions about this subject.

Update: October 12, 2014
"Buck dancing" ("buck jumping") as described in this post isn't the same as the contemporary African American dance movement called "bucking". "Bucking" is probably a new name for the very old African originated dance move that consist of pelvic pops.

It appears that the Houston, Texas group X-Treme Motion was the first to popularize "bucking" on television. That group competed on the 2010 television show "America's Best Dance Crew. Here's a link to a January 4, 2010 video of X-Treme motion and the publisher's Trecia KneCole Fan Page's summary statement:
"X-Treme Motion Dance Crew is a Houston Based Crew from "The Motion of the Ocean" Majorettes at Texas Southern University.. They specialize in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Ballet, Funky Jazz, and Modern. But, Showcasing and bring their own dance style called "Bucking" to the forefront."

These comments are posted in no particular order & are given numbers for referral purposes only.

Notice the different descriptions in these quotes about what a "wing" was. My take on these descriptions was that the wing started out as flapping the arms and minstrelsy & vaudeville changed it to flapping a leg.
Comment #1: Tap roots: The Early History Of Tap Dancing
by Mark Knowles (McFarland & Company Jefferson, North Carolina May 2002)
Page 44
"Old style buck dancing consisted mainly of stamps and chugs, sometimes embellished with toe bounces. The origins of buck dancing are unclear, but sources indicate that it has many elements in common with the Cherokee stomp dance. There is conjecture that it is also related to the ceremonial dances in which Indians braves would put on the antlers and skin of a male deer...

One of the most popular buck dances among African American slaves was the pigeon wing (also called the chicken wing), When performing the pigeon wing, dancers strutted like a bird and scrapped their feet, while their arms bent at the sides, were flapped like wings. When interviewed for the Virginia’s Writers Project, ex-slave Fannie Berry described the pigeon wing thus:
"Dere was cuttin’ de pigeon wings-dat was flippin’ you arms an legs roun’ an’ holdin ya neck stiff like a bird do.” "

Comment #2: Lynne Fauley Emery's 1989 book Black Dance: From 1619 to Today(page 90) [revised Feb. 26, 2017]:
"The Pigeon Wing appears to have been performed over a large geographical area. References were made to the Pigeon Wing from South Carolina to Texas, and from Indiana to Mississippi. Horace Overstreet, of Beaumont, Texas, remembered the dance by another name. Overstreet stated that on Christmas and July 4, a big dance would be held on their plantation. '...jus' a reg'lar old breakdown dance. Some was dancin' Swing de Corner, and some in de middle de floor cuttin' de chicken wing.

Fannie Henry described the Pigeon Wing as follows: "Dere was cuttin' de pigeon wings-dat was flippin' yo arms an' legs roun' an' holdin' ya' neck stiff like a bird do."

The Pigeon Wing and the Buck dance appear as authentic dances of the Negro on the plantation, much before they were picked up for the minstrel shows and billed as the "Buck and Wing"."

Comment #3: From
"Buck dancing is a pre-tap dance routine that was done by Minstrels and Vaudeville performers in the mid nineteenth century portraying the African American males known as “bucks.” Originally, the pigeon wing step (foot shaking in the air) was a big part of this early folk dance but later separated when variations began such as the shooting out of one leg making a “Wing”....

The legendary dancer “Master Juba”* did a buck and a wing in the 1840s. It was said that the first buck & wing routine was performed on the New York stage in 1880 by James McIntrye as well as inventing the “Syncopated Buck & Wing”…

The Buck and Wing was adapted to the Minstrel stage from the recreational clogs and shuffles of African Americans...

Buck: Rhythm and Percussive. Originally just a stamping of the feet to interpret the music which later became much more refined when mixed with the Jig and Clog. Buck dancers danced alone and in a small area of space...

Flatfoot is mostly Buck dancing... but much more laid back in which the soles of the feet stay very close to the floor and without the soles of the dancers’ shoes making much noise, nor stomping. The flatfoot dancer seems relaxed and carefree while he or she dances, even though the feet are constantly moving. If you can imagine a “soft shoe” Buck dance. This dance is a spot dance (done in place) with the arms moving only slightly to flow with the dancer’s balance giving them a fluid look. If more than one person wants to dance at the same time, they each dance individually, i.e. “freestyle”, but still adhere to the rhythm of the music being played...

Pigeon wing (1830s) was originally just shaking one foot in the air...
*”Master Juba” was Black. My assumption is that James McIntrye was also Black.

Comment #4:
"Solo dancing (outside the context of the big circle dance) is known in various places as buck dance, flatfooting, hoedown, jigging, sure-footing, and stepping…One source states that buck dancing was the earliest combination of the basic shuffle and tap steps performed to syncopated rhythms in which accents are placed not on the straight beat, as with the jigs, clogs, and other dances of European origin, but on the downbeat or offbeat, a style derived primarily from the rhythms of African tribal music.[16]

Buck dancing was popularized in America by minstrel performers in the late 19th century. Many folk festivals and fairs utilize dancing clubs or teams to perform both Buck and regular clogging for entertainment.

Traditional Appalachian clogging is characterized by loose, often bent knees and a "drag-slide" motion of the foot across the floor, and is usually performed to old-time music."
That Wikipedia page also includes theories about the source of the word “buck”.

Video #1:Thomas F. DeFrantz: Buck, Wing and Jig

Duke University,Published on Mar 26, 2012

How did dances on slave plantations develop into the Charleston and the Kid n' Play? DeFrantz demonstrates three traditional African American social dances.

Learn more. Thomas F. DeFrantz discusses dance, technology and African American culture.
This demonstration video focuses on three social dances that emerged in the 19th century and became very important.

Here are excerpts of Thomas F. DeFrantz's comments:
Buck, wing, and jig are dances were developed by African Americans outside of the eyes of the clergy and the White slave owners who were only interested in dances that could be tied to Christian movements...

Buck dances were forms that were very very percussive, and weighted down into the foot.
All these dances are about rhythm and percussion.

Wing dances are very important and have a lot more visibility in the 20th century and on into the 21st century. Wing dances are dances were you literally flap parts of your body like if they were wings. (shown flapping; spreading wide] his arms and his legs]...So you can see how 150 years later in the 21st century the wing dances could become popping.

Jig dances are dances that have lots and lots of energy and lots of velocity. So if you put jigs and wings together we get something that we might recognize as footwork or something we might recognize as the Charleston or the Kid n Play. Or if we go back to the wing, we’d get something that we might have known or heard of called The Butterfly."
Here’s a portion of the comment that I posted on this video's viewer comment thread:
“Prior to viewing this video, I hadn't connected historically Black Greek letter fraternity & sorority steppin' to 19th century Buck dances. Buck dancing seems also to be a source of foot stomping routines that once were informal recreational activities for (mostly) Black girls & now are being incorporated into some pre-university mainstream cheerleading routines. Those 2 movement arts also may incorporate body patting (pattin Juba).”

Video #2: Buck Dancing at Mabry Mill

slockamy2, Uploaded on Jul 14, 2011

Jay Bland & Thomas Maupin buck dancing at Mabry Mill July 4th weekend. They are both champion dancers, (state & national) & we were fortunate to be there the same time as they were.

Video #3: Over the Top Be-Bop: Honi Coles & Cholly Atkins.

crackedoreo,Uploaded on Sep 12, 2011

A discussion of the history of tap dance with Marshall Stearns. Charles (Honi) Coles and Charlie Atkins demonstrate various dance steps such as: "over the top," "bebop, " "buck and wing, " and "slow drag."
The demonstration of several “wings” steps starts at 8:59.

One of the observers who introduces this segment said “There are apparently as many wings as there are time steps”.,

RELATED LINK "Various Late 19th Century & Early 20th Century African American Bird Dances"

This concludes Part I of this series.

Thanks to those whose comment I quoted.

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Visitor comments are welcome.


  1. 2 things you might want to know.
    1. Buck dancing originated in the Appalachian Mts, it is mostly derived from traditional European dances (river dancing, contra, and English country dancing) as well as Native American dances.
    2. video #2 is of flatfooting, which is like buck dancing but instead of picking your knees up when you dance you keep your feet close to the ground.

  2. Thanks anonymous March 24, 2014 for your comments.

    I've never seen any of these dances besides in videos so I really appreciate your input.