African Americans sang and danced in the places where they worked as slaves, and as they converted to the religions of the Americas, they incorporated these traditions into their practice of these religions. Dance found a place in the churches and temples of black people. Blacks who worked in colonies of Spain, Portugal, and other predominantly Roman Catholic nations, especially in the Caribbean and South America, usually were given more freedom to carry on their own religious traditions, including dance, than were enslaved blacks in North America. Many North American slave owners, in adhering to strict Protestant tenets, barred Africans from most forms of dancing. Africans found ways of getting around the prohibitions of the slavemasters, however. For example, since lifting the feet was considered dancing, many dances included foot shuffling and hip and torso movement.
Dances dominant through the 18th century included the ring shout or ring dance, the calenda, the chica, and the juba. The ring shout originated in West African religious ceremonies, and was performed by blacks throughout the Eastern and Southern United States as a part of Protestant worship. It was danced by a circle of people who shuffled and stomped their feet and swayed their hips. The calenda and the chica were sensual mating dances; partners began these dances at a distance from each other and gradually moved closer and closer. They were performed in the Caribbean and in parts of the American South, and may have originated in the region around the Congo River in Africa. The jiglike juba, a competitive dance in which dancers challenged one another to demonstrate their agility and rhythmic abilities, was performed throughout the American South and the Caribbean.