Originally, dance was prayer or spiritual gathering to the slaves - an integral part of religion and culture and in America, it was known as the "Ring Shout." The Ring Shout derived from the African Circle Dance and is considered one of the most significant African dances to influence the spread of all others and the music as well.
Early in the United States the Baptist Church prohibited drumming and dancing which ruled out most of the religious dances of African decent. Dancing was defined by many things by the Baptist Church, primarily the crossing of ones feet (was considered unholy dancing.) Since the Ring Shout didn't generally use any musical instruments only a percussion of clapping and stomping or sometime a stick beating down on the floor and a "call and response' type of singing (shouting) all
the while using counterclockwise dance-like movement. The Ring Shout usually occurred in a church after the formal worship, in "praise houses", Barns, or thanking God (Africans deity was Yoruba god Elegba, which later when converted to Christian slaves became Jesus) at the end of the day in the bush arbors or field. These generally lasted until a spiritual possession of "God" or "beloved ancestor"(a Sasa period) would be felt. Most Christian's frowned on this practice as heathen, but allowed it for various reasons.
The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. The Shout was very popular in South Carolina, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana and its practice continued in those areas well into the twentieth century which eventually some say gave birth to a secular parody of the Ring Shout called the 'Walk-Around' in Minstrel Shows (Pattin' Juba dance is also connected to the Ring Shout). With a fresh arrival of slaves to the new world on a weekly basis, the slaves would be able to keep ties with their spiritual connections, dances and music, even if outlawed.
Up to 20% of the Africans brought to America were Muslims. Islam had established a presence along the West African coast long before the Portuguese introduced Christianity there... this leads us to the word shout which refers to the dance, not shouting verbally and is believed to be derived from the Afro-Arabic saut, referring to the counter-clockwise movement around the Kabaa in Mecca.
The Ring Shout utilizes the whole body (feet, arms, legs, Hips, belly, head, hands etc.) with the main focus being rhythms. The dancers begin by first walking in a 'congo pose' and one by one, sliding their feet as they move, shuffling round, one after the other in a ring (circle). The song is danced with a kinda shuffle step, while the hips would wiggle and sway while the shoulders were held stiff and various heel tapping and stamping, each doing their own improvisations. At the end of each stanza of the song the dancers stop short with a slight stamp on the last note, an then, putting the other foot forward, proceed through the next verse all with a style and grace, occasionally a dancer would enter the center of the ring. Due to many contrary movements in the dance there was a sort of jerking motion which agitated the entire shouter.