[Siblings Rudy and Fredy Walker performing the ‘Cakewalk’ in France. ‘A History of African American Theatre’ by Errol G. Hill and James V. Hatch.]
The Cakewalk became a popular stage act for expert dancers as well as a craze in fashionable ballrooms at the turn of the twentieth century. Couples formed a square with the men on the inside and stepping high to a lively tune, strutted around the square.
The couples were eliminated one by one by several judges, who considered the elegant bearing of the men, the grace of the women and the creativity of the dancers; the last remaining pair was presented with a highly decorated cake. Thus the name…
The cakewalk originated among American Black slaves who, often in the company of their masters, used the dance as a subtle satire on the elegance of white ballroom dances. It contributed to the evolution of later American and European dances based on jazz culture, rhythms, and that musical influence on the growth of ragtime.
About the kids
Ruth (Rudy) Walker [b.1891 – d.1928] and her little brother Frederick (Fredy) Walker [b.1893 -d.1977], known as The Walkers, song and dance entertainers and actors, were both born in Chicago, IL. It appears that at some time in 1902 through 1908, the two dancers, traveled to Europe in the company of their mother, Ella Walker, herself an artist, born in Chicago (circa 1860s).
Billed as “Les Enfants Nègres,” their presentations of the cakewalk dance attracted a lot of attention at the Nouveau Cirque at Paris and paved the way for a long career in Europe. They became so popular that they inspired a composer, a sculptor and a movie film director, as well as cartoonists.
Their portraits appear on many postcards; in fact, they might well be the most often photographed African American entertainers of that period… 😀