AskDefine | Define cakewalk

Dictionary Definition



1 a strutting dance based on a march; was performed in minstrel shows; originated as a competition among Black dancers to win a cake
2 an easy accomplishment; "winning the tournament was a cakewalk for him"; "invading Iraq won't be a cakewalk" v : perform the cakewalk dance

User Contributed Dictionary



Originally a form of dance that white masters had their slaves perform for them and their audiences as entertainment. The slaveowners considered the spectacle extremely amusing since the dances derived from sophisticated white European aristocracy. As such, slaveowners dressed the slaves in costumes of exaggerated finery, like ridiculously tall tophats and flashy striped pants, and taught the slaves variations of the original dance steps designed as highly comical parodies. Audiences selected their favorites, and the slaves who performed most entertainly for their masters were rewarded with a piece of cake.



  1. A contest in which cake was offered for the best dancers
  2. The style of music associated with such a contest.
  3. The dance, or style of dance associated with such a contest.
  4. Something that is easy or simple, or does not present any great challenge.
    I've known this material for a long time, so the test on it should be a cakewalk.


Extensive Definition

This article is about the form of music and dance. For the musical notation program, see Cakewalk (sequencer).For other meanings, see Cakewalk (disambiguation).
Cakewalk is a traditional African American form of music and dance which originated among slaves in the Southern United States. The form was originally known as the chalk line walk; it takes its name from competitions slaveholders sometimes held, in which they offered slices of hoecake as prizes for the best dancers. It has since evolved from a parody of ballroom dancing to a "fun fair" like dance where participants dance in a circle in the hopes of winning a free cake.

Traditional dance

The dance was invented as a satirical parody of the formal European ballroom dances preferred by white slave owners, and featured exaggerated imitations of the dance ritual, combined with traditional African dance steps. One common form of cakewalk dance involved couples linked at the elbows, lining up in a circle, dancing forward alternating a series of short hopping steps with a series of very high kicking steps. Costumes worn for the cakewalk often included large, exaggerated bow ties, suits, canes, and top hats.
The Cake Walk was an adapted and amended two-step, which had been spawned by the popluarity of marches; most notably by John Philip Sousa. The Cake Walk was more fluid and imaginative than the established two-step, it was nevertheless a regularized form, more improvisational than its previous form, but highly formalized compared to later dances such as the Charleston, Black Bottom and Lindy Hop.
In July 1898 the musical comedy "Clorindy The Origin of the Cakewalk" opened on Broadway in New York. Will Marion Cook wrote ragtime music for the show. Black dancers mingled with white cast members for the first instance of integration on stage in New York. Cook wrote, "My chorus sang like Russians, dancing meanwhile like Negroes, and cakewalking like angels, black angels! When the last note was sounded, the audience stood and cheered for at least ten minutes. This was the finale which Witmark had said no one would listen to. It was pandemonium... But did that audience take offense at my rags and lack of conducting polish? Not so you could notice it!"
Performances of the "Cake Walk", including a "Comedy Cake Walk" were filmed by the American Motoscope & Biograph 1903. Prancing steps were the main steps shown in the "Cake Walk" segment, which featured two couples, and a solo dancer. All dancers were African American. 1903 was the same year that both the cakewalk and ragtime music arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Leaning far forward or far backward is associated with defiance in Kongo. "We are palm trees, bent forward, bent back, but we never break." Another interpretations of these motions were "melting" to the beat, or protecting what is new (leaning forward) with the past (leaning back). The appearance of the cakewalk in Buenos Aires may have influenced influenced early styles of tango.
Dances by slaves were a popular spectator pastime for slaveholders, evolving into regular Sunday contests held for their pleasure. Following the American Civil War, the tradition continued amongst African Americans in the South and gradually moved northward. The dance became nationally popular among whites and blacks for a time at the end of the 19th century. The music was adopted into the works of various white composers, including Robert Russell Bennett, John Philip Sousa and Claude Debussy. Debussy wrote Golliwog's Cakewalk as the final movement of the Children's Corner suite (1908).

Modern times

The term "cakewalk" is often used to indicate something that is very easy or effortless. Though the dance itself could be physically demanding, it was generally considered a fun, recreational pastime. The phrase "takes the cake" also comes from this practice.


However, it was at one of these balls that I first saw the cake-walk. There was a contest for a gold watch, to be awarded to the hotel head-waiter receiving the greatest number of votes. There was some dancing while the votes were being counted. Then the floor was cleared for the cake-walk. A half-dozen guests from some of the hotels took seats on the stage to act as judges, and twelve or fourteen couples began to walk for a sure enough, highly decorated cake, which was in plain evidence. The spectators crowded about the space reserved for the contestants and watched them with interest and excitement. The couples did not walk round in a circle, but in a square, with the men on the inside. The fine points to be considered were the bearing of the men, the precision with which they turned the corners, the grace of the women, and the ease with which they swung around the pivots. The men walked with stately and soldierly step, and the women with considerable grace. The judges arrived at their decision by a process of elimination. The music and the walk continued for some minutes; then both were stopped while the judges conferred; when the walk began again, several couples were left out. In this way the contest was finally narrowed down to three or four couples. Then the excitement became intense; there was much partisan cheering as one couple or another would execute a turn in extra elegant style. When the cake was finally awarded, the spectators were about evenly divided between those who cheered the winners and those who muttered about the unfairness of the judges. This was the cake-walk in its original form, and it is what the colored performers on the theatrical stage developed into the prancing movements now known all over the world, and which some Parisian critics pronounced the acme of poetic motion.James Weldon Johnson: The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man, 1912, Chapter 5


External links

cakewalk in German: Cakewalk
cakewalk in French: Cake-walk
cakewalk in Dutch: Cakewalk
cakewalk in Japanese: ケークウォーク
cakewalk in Polish: Cake-walk
cakewalk in Portuguese: Cakewalk
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