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Streetswings Dance History Archives: The Essence
old time minstrel traveler with violin

The Essence of Old Virginia

    The Essence of Old Virginia is also known as the Arkansas Traveler Dance. The Essence of Old Virginia or Virginia Essence was Minstrelsy's most famous dance as it became the first dance that all professional Minstrels needed to learn. In the 1850's Minstrel man Dan Bryant would lead the way for it's acceptance into the Minstrel shows.

    The 'Shuffle dance' was to play a major role in it's creation which eventually led the way for the Arkansas Traveler and the Soft Shoe!. The dance is said to be based entirely on the old 'rude plantation Negro' dance material, described as a combination of old 'Darky steps' and intricate

shuffles. The dance when done properly appeared as if the dancer didn't move the feet at all, very smooth, so smooth you would think they wore skates as they progressed forward rapidly.

    The Essence eventually lost it's eccentric steps and helped shape the Soft Shoe dance routines, as some say the Soft Shoe was the refinement of the Essence with its graceful movements that eventually became known as a "Class Act". The dance was originally done to 6/8 time, but was later changed to 4/4. The "Essence" is also included in tap dancing (fron Essence and Back Essencs, Double Essence).


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

The South reportedly about 1736 n/a Folk / Plantation Dance

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Sheet Music Covers

Music Titles

n/a n/a Narcissus
            Wait tile the Clouds Go By

Night Clubs



n/a n/a n/a

Films / Movies

Minstrel Shows / Stage, etc

n/a n/a



Other Related Dances of the time...

Basse Dances Chicken Reel Hornpipe La Volta Reels
Barn Dance Contredanse, la Jig Old Paul Jones Square Dance
Buck Dance Clog Lancers Pigeon Wing Virginia Reels
Carmagnole, la Folk Dance Landler Quadrilles Virginia Essence

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


Billie Kersands Greenlee and Drayton n/a
Dan Bryant (1858) Eddie Leonard  
Eddie Girard (1872) James Barton (1910's)  

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...





$ Jazz Dance: The Story of American ... Stearns, Marshall 1994 Da Capo Press




Poets / Writers

n/a n/a n/a n/a

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Buck dance Jig    
Virginia Reel Quadrilles    
Square Dance Pas de Bourree    

Other ...


  • This page uses some racially un-acceptable terms and should in no way reflect how the webmasters feels on these matters, they are only used as old descriptive writings showing the poor thinking of times gone by.