'American Soul' Shows the Impact 'Soul Train' Had on Dance History

by Kristyn Burtt | 2/6/2019 2:54 PM

Photo credit: Annette Brown/BET.

BET's latest scripted show, American Soul, not only dives into the story of Don Cornelius and his game-changing show, Soul Train, it also offers a look into dance history. What many people have forgotten along the way is that the show introduced dance styles like the Robot, Popping, Waacking and even the Backslide, which became known as the Moonwalk to America.

Soul Train was the "longest-running first-run, nationally syndicated program in American television history," until Entertainment Tonight took over that spot in 2016. The show immediately had a major impact on black culture and the dancers on the Soul Train Line became superstars and influenced the shape of dance history.

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Michael Jackson took inspiration from the show when he did the Robot during the famous Jackson 5 performance of "Dancing Machine." That moment was mentioned frequently on Monday night at the premiere of American Soul in Los Angeles. 

Jelani Winston, who plays Kendall Clarke in the series, told Dance Network, "I was seven years old when I first discovered the Jackson 5's performance on YouTube. There was Michael doing the Robot and my mind was blown away."

For Iantha Richardson, who portrays Tessa Lorraine on the series, Soul Train was a constant presence in her house on Saturdays. 

"The show was always on in my house. If it was Saturday, it was Soul Train day," she recalled. "I don't remember not being aware of the show. It was a part of my childhood."

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Don Cornelius' granddaughter, Christina clearly remembers a set visit when Shemar Moore was hosting the show. "That's when I truly understood the legacy and knew it was a very big deal. Plus, I thought Shemar was pretty cute," she laughed.

For Don's son, Tony, he's ready to reclaim the dance history that is associated with the show. He promised Dance Network, "Just wait until you see what's in the works. A new show is coming." 

Photo credit: Annette Brown/BET.

One of the biggest elements of American Soul is recapturing the rawness and authenticity of those classic moves while still giving the dances a fresh feel. Fatima Robinson and Adrian Wiltshire took on that task for the series and the cast walked away with some vital lessons.

"Fatima taught me to focus on the details in a number. I got to work with her one on one, which was a dream," revealed Richardson. "She made me realize that the little moments are often a bigger deal than the flashier moments."

Winston learned to add more flair to his dancing and worry less about the technical aspects of the moves.

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"Fatima and Adrian showed me that performance is important to the dance moves. It has to have authenticity and it has to have heart," he said.

Soul Train's heart revolved around that epic Soul Train Line that captured the talent and the personalities of the dancers on the show. While some drew attention to themselves with props and costumes, it was Richardson who offered the best advice for having that legendary Soul Train Line moment.

"Take your time," she advised. "This is your big moment. Don't rush it. People like to rush it. Soak it all in."

'American Soul' airs on Tuesday nights on BET. 

Don't miss Dance Network's latest 'To The Pointe' interview with one of the 'World of Dance' supervising choreographers, Brittany Cherry:

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