William Henry Lane, known as Juba, was perhaps the greatest of
the Black American dancers and musicians who astonished the British
theatre-going public in the 1840s and 1850s. The Illustrated
London News, in the article from which this drawing is taken,
enthused about his dances as follows:
‘…how could Juba enter into their wonderful complications
so naturally? How could he tie his legs into such knots, and fling
them about so recklessly, or make his feet twinkle until you lose
sight of them altogether in his energy. The great Boz immortalised
him; and he deserved the glory thus conferred.’
Lane was born in Mississippi about 1825 and died in London while
in his late twenties. He took as his stage name that of a dance
created by the slaves in America, although the word itself has much
earlier origins - in the African dance ‘djouba’.
Lane performed with various minstrel troops, including, unusually,
White companies - and even topped the bill. But however feted Juba
and other Black dancers were, how might they have been received
if their style had been more European or classical?
ZPER 34/13, Illustrated London News, 5 August 1848, p.
By courtesy of the Illustrated London
News Picture Library