The Underground Railroad

Dance Symbol Icon

In the novel, dance is shown to be both a source of joy and of suffering. Dance has an important history within African-American communities; under slavery, it was a way of connecting back to cultural traditions in Africa, as well as a rare moment at which enslaved people could feel joyful and free. However, traditional African dance was mostly banned in an effort to cut off enslaved people from their heritage. Slave owners also regularly forced enslaved people to dance for their entertainment, as Terrance does early in the novel. Because of this, dance takes on a sinister edge, and can become a reminder of the control white people exercise over the bodies of the enslaved. Unlike many of the other characters, Cora is averse to dancing completely. While other characters are able to shake off the negative associations with dance in order to enjoy dancing, Cora cannot disassociate dance from enslavement. Furthermore, the experience of being in such close proximity to male bodies—even in a happy and innocent setting—reminds Cora of the night she was raped. In this way, dance also represents sexuality. Whereas sexuality is sometimes shown to be a source of joy in the novel, most of the time it is associated with violence, violation, and powerlessness. The institutionalized rape of black women during slavery means that, like dance, sex often becomes irrevocably poisoned with negative associations.

Dance Quotes in The Underground Railroad

The The Underground Railroad quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dance. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Doubleday edition of The Underground Railroad published in 2016.
Chapter 12: The North Quotes

On Randall, on Valentine, Cora never joined the dancing circles. She shrank from the spinning bodies, afraid of another person so close, so uncontrolled. Men had put a fear in her, those years ago. Tonight, she told herself. Tonight I will hold him close, as if in a slow dance. As if it were just the two of them in the lonesome world, bound to each other until the end of the song.

Related Characters: Cora (aka Bessie), Arnold Ridgeway
Related Symbols: Dance
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui

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Dance Symbol Timeline in The Underground Railroad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dance appears in The Underground Railroad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Georgia
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...choose if she could pick her birthday. Lovey is a simple young woman who enjoys dancing at the celebration days—birthdays, harvests, and Christmas. Cora doesn’t dance. She replies that she has... (full context)
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...would like to wrestle with a young man named Major. Following the wrestling comes the dancing, during which time the tensions of the community are eased. Through dance, members of the... (full context)
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...turns to go, but Terrance insists on one more song. Terrance demands that the slaves dance, which they do, performing with vigor and joy that they do not really feel. Suddenly,... (full context)
Chapter 4: South Carolina
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
...live in the dormitories and “undo some of the damage” of slavery. There is music, dancing, food, and drink. Caesar works in a factory, a job he finds “unexpectedly fulfilling.” He... (full context)
Chapter 8: Tennessee
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...to his work. Cora can hear music coming from the saloon, and she imagines patrons dancing slowly together. She thinks that such dancing is “real conversation,” unlike Ridgeway’s spew of words.... (full context)
Chapter 9: Caesar
Family, Heritage, and Home Theme Icon
Endurance vs. Rebellion Theme Icon
Death and Freedom Theme Icon
Value, Ownership, and Commodification Theme Icon
Brutality and Violation Theme Icon
History, Myth, and Fantasy Theme Icon
...even before she does. The fact that Cora shielded Chester during the incident at the dance further proved that she would be essential to Caesar’s plan. After Cora was beaten, Caesar... (full context)