The History of Tops in Louisiana: A Comprehensive Overview

Have you ever wondered when the game of tops became a popular pastime in Louisiana? The history of this iconic game dates back to the late 19th century, when the first tops were introduced to the state. Over the years, tops have become a beloved part of Louisiana culture, with tournaments and competitions attracting participants from all over the state. In this comprehensive overview, we’ll explore the origins of tops in Louisiana, their evolution over time, and the impact they’ve had on the state’s cultural landscape. So, grab a top and let’s dive in!

The Origins of Tops in Louisiana

The Role of African American Culture in the Development of Tops

Influence of African American Folklore and Traditions

African American folklore and traditions have played a significant role in shaping the development of tops in Louisiana. The game has been influenced by various cultural practices, such as storytelling, music, and dance, which have their roots in African American history. For instance, the call-and-response pattern often used in African American music is evident in the game’s strategies and tactics.

Adaptation of African Games

Tops in Louisiana has also been influenced by African games, such as mancala and awalé, which were brought to the region by enslaved Africans. These games involved the manipulation of small objects and stones, and they often had cultural significance and were used for teaching life lessons. The game of tops, with its simple object and complex gameplay, can be seen as an adaptation of these African games.

Evolution of Tops in African American Communities

The evolution of tops in African American communities in Louisiana is closely tied to the history of the people and their experiences. During slavery, tops provided a way for enslaved people to engage in leisure activities and socialize with one another. As African American communities gained more freedom and autonomy after the Civil War, tops became a way to assert their cultural identity and maintain a connection to their roots.

Fusion with Other Games and Activities

African American culture has also influenced the fusion of tops with other games and activities. For example, the game of double Dutch, which originated in African American communities, involves jumping rope and has been combined with tops to create a new game. Similarly, the game of ring toss, which has its roots in European cultures, has been adapted and played with tops in African American communities.

In conclusion, the role of African American culture in the development of tops in Louisiana has been significant. The game has been shaped by African American folklore and traditions, as well as the influence of African games. As African American communities have evolved, tops have adapted and changed to reflect their experiences and cultural identity.

The Influence of French and Spanish Music on Early Tops

Louisiana’s unique musical tradition, tops, has a rich history deeply rooted in the cultural influences of the French and Spanish. These two European powers played a significant role in shaping the early music of Louisiana, particularly in the development of tops.

The French influence on early tops can be traced back to the earliest days of Louisiana’s history. The first French settlers brought with them their traditional music, which included various stringed instruments such as the lute, the guitar, and the fiddle. These instruments were used to create a distinct sound that would later become a part of the tops tradition.

Similarly, the Spanish influence on early tops was also significant. The Spanish settlers brought their own musical traditions, including the use of percussion instruments such as the tambourine and the castanets. These instruments were incorporated into the early tops music, adding a rhythmic element that is still present in the genre today.

Furthermore, the early tops music was heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, which played a significant role in the early history of Louisiana. The music of the Church, including hymns and religious processions, had a profound impact on the development of tops.

Overall, the influence of French and Spanish music on early tops can be seen in the unique blend of stringed instruments and percussion that characterizes the genre. This rich cultural heritage continues to shape the music of Louisiana to this day.

The Emergence of Tops as a Popular Dance Style

Key takeaway: The history of tops in Louisiana is deeply rooted in African American culture, with influences from African games and musical traditions from French and Spanish music. Tops has evolved over the years, incorporating elements of Rhythm and Blues, Neo-Swing, and Lindy Hop. The revival of competitive tops dancing in the 21st century has helped preserve African American dance traditions and foster a sense of community and unity among participants and spectators alike. The importance of tops in Louisiana culture cannot be overstated, as it is an integral part of the state’s musical heritage and a symbol of its unique cultural identity. The future of tops in Louisiana looks bright, with efforts to promote it as a unique and valuable part of Louisiana’s cultural heritage.

The Rise of Tops in New Orleans Jazz Bands

The incorporation of tops into New Orleans jazz bands can be traced back to the early 20th century, where the dance style was first introduced by African American communities in the city. The dance style quickly gained popularity and became a staple in the vibrant music scene of New Orleans.

One of the earliest jazz bands to incorporate tops into their performances was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, formed in 1917. The band’s lively performances and catchy melodies helped to popularize tops throughout the city and beyond.

As jazz music spread across the country, so did the dance style of tops. New Orleans jazz bands would often perform at dance halls and clubs, where people would come to watch and learn the dance. This helped to further spread the popularity of tops, making it a beloved dance style across the country.

In addition to its popularity in New Orleans, tops also played a significant role in the history of jazz music. Many famous jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, were known to incorporate tops into their performances, further cementing its place in the genre.

Today, tops remains an important part of the cultural heritage of Louisiana and continues to be enjoyed by people all over the world.

The Incorporation of Tops into Mardi Gras Parades

In the early 20th century, the popularity of Tops in Louisiana began to spread beyond the African American communities in which it originated. One of the most significant venues for this growth was the state’s Mardi Gras parades, which attracted large crowds of spectators from all walks of life.

In the early days of Mardi Gras, the parades were largely the domain of the city’s elite, who would parade through the streets in horse-drawn carriages, tossing throws to the crowds of people who had come out to watch. Over time, however, the parades became more democratic, with a wider range of groups and organizations participating.

One of the first groups to incorporate Tops into their Mardi Gras parades was the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which was founded in 1918 by a group of African American businessmen and professionals. The club’s parades quickly became known for their elaborate costumes and energetic dancing, with members performing the Tops dance in intricate formations and patterns.

Other parades soon followed suit, with many of the city’s other African American social clubs and organizations adopting the Tops dance as a central part of their Mardi Gras celebrations. This helped to spread the dance beyond its original African American roots, and it quickly became a beloved part of the city’s Mardi Gras culture.

Today, the Tops dance remains an essential part of Mardi Gras in Louisiana, with many of the state’s most famous parades featuring Tops dancers in their ranks. Whether performed by costumed revelers or by skilled dancers in street clothes, the Tops dance continues to be a beloved and iconic part of the state’s cultural heritage.

The Evolution of Tops in the 20th Century

The Influence of Rhythm and Blues on Tops

In the 20th century, Tops in Louisiana were greatly influenced by the Rhythm and Blues movement. This influence can be seen in several ways, including:

  • The incorporation of blues and jazz elements into Tops music, resulting in a unique sound that combined traditional Cajun and Creole music with the upbeat rhythms of Rhythm and Blues.
  • The use of electric instruments, such as the guitar and bass, which allowed for a more dynamic and powerful sound in Tops music.
  • The adoption of a more modern, urban style of music production and distribution, which helped Tops music reach a wider audience beyond the rural communities of Louisiana.
  • The integration of African American musicians and musical traditions into Tops music, leading to a more diverse and inclusive sound that reflected the multicultural nature of Louisiana.

Overall, the influence of Rhythm and Blues on Tops in Louisiana was a significant factor in the evolution of this unique and vibrant musical tradition.

The Adaptation of Tops for the Stage and Screen

The adaptation of tops for the stage and screen was a significant turning point in the history of tops in Louisiana. As the popularity of tops spread beyond the rural communities and into the urban areas, it was only a matter of time before they found their way onto the stage and screen.

One of the earliest examples of this adaptation was in the 1920s, when the play “The Bat” was performed in New York City. This play featured a character named “The Bat,” who was known for his acrobatic skills and his ability to perform tops. The character was a hit with audiences, and the play ran for several years.

In the 1930s, tops made their way onto the silver screen with the release of the film “The Devil’s Playground.” This film featured a group of young people who were skilled at performing tops, and it was a hit with audiences.

In the 1940s, tops continued to gain popularity on the stage and screen. The play “The Boy Friend” was a particular success, featuring a character named “The Tops Man,” who was known for his incredible skill with tops. The play ran for several years and was eventually adapted into a film in the 1970s.

In the 1950s, tops made their way onto television with the release of the show “The Ed Sullivan Show.” This show featured a variety of acts, including performers who would demonstrate their skills with tops. The show was a hit with audiences and ran for several decades.

Overall, the adaptation of tops for the stage and screen was a significant turning point in the history of tops in Louisiana. It helped to bring the tradition to a wider audience and to preserve it for future generations.

The Revival of Tops in the 21st Century

The Influence of Neo-Swing and Lindy Hop on Tops

The 21st century has witnessed a revival of interest in traditional dances like Tops in Louisiana. This renewed interest can be attributed to the influence of two contemporary dance styles: Neo-Swing and Lindy Hop.


Neo-Swing is a modern dance style that emerged in the 1990s as a revival of the original Swing dance style from the 1920s to 1940s. Neo-Swing is characterized by its emphasis on traditional moves and techniques, as well as the incorporation of modern music and styles.

The influence of Neo-Swing on Tops can be seen in the way that both dances share similar rhythms and techniques. For example, Neo-Swing dancers often use the same footwork patterns as Tops dancers, with a focus on the syncopated beats of the music. This shared vocabulary has made it easier for Neo-Swing dancers to transition into Tops, and vice versa.

Lindy Hop

Lindy Hop is another popular dance style that originated in the 1920s and 1930s in the African-American communities of Harlem, New York City. Lindy Hop is known for its energetic and acrobatic moves, as well as its focus on improvisation and connection between partners.

The influence of Lindy Hop on Tops can be seen in the way that both dances emphasize the connection between partners and the importance of leading and following. Lindy Hop’s acrobatic moves have also inspired Tops dancers to incorporate more complex lifts and spins into their routines.

Overall, the influence of Neo-Swing and Lindy Hop on Tops has helped to revive interest in this traditional dance style, while also introducing new moves and techniques to the dance community. As a result, Tops has continued to evolve and adapt to the changing tastes and preferences of dancers, ensuring its continued popularity in Louisiana and beyond.

The Rise of Competitive Tops Dancing

The Emergence of Organized Tops Competitions

In the 21st century, the popularity of tops dancing in Louisiana experienced a resurgence, with a growing interest in organized competitions. This revival can be attributed to several factors, including the efforts of dedicated dance enthusiasts, the influence of social media, and the support of local communities.

The Role of Dance Enthusiasts

The revival of competitive tops dancing in Louisiana can be traced back to the efforts of dedicated dance enthusiasts who sought to preserve and promote the traditional dance form. These individuals formed dance groups and organizations, aiming to provide a platform for dancers to showcase their skills and talents.

The Influence of Social Media

Social media played a significant role in the resurgence of tops dancing in Louisiana. Videos of dancers performing intricate routines and showcasing their skills went viral, capturing the attention of audiences worldwide. This exposure led to a growing interest in the dance form, as well as an increase in participation in organized competitions.

The Support of Local Communities

The revival of competitive tops dancing in Louisiana was also supported by local communities, which recognized the cultural significance of the dance form. Local governments and organizations provided funding and resources to support dance groups and competitions, helping to ensure the continuation of this unique cultural tradition.

The Evolution of Competition Rules and Categories

As the popularity of competitive tops dancing grew, so did the complexity of the competitions. Rules and categories were developed to ensure fair and competitive dancing, while also accommodating the diverse styles and techniques employed by dancers.

The Introduction of Judging Criteria

To maintain fairness and consistency in competition scoring, judging criteria were established. These criteria included technical execution, creativity, and showmanship, with each category carrying a specific weight in the overall score.

The Development of Dance Styles and Categories

As the competitive landscape evolved, so did the styles and categories of tops dancing. Dancers began to specialize in various styles, such as traditional, modern, and hip-hop, each with its own set of techniques and movements. Competitions adapted to accommodate these diverse styles, with separate categories established for each.

The Impact of Competitive Tops Dancing on the Community

The rise of competitive tops dancing in Louisiana has had a profound impact on the community. It has not only preserved the cultural heritage of the dance form but also fostered a sense of pride and unity among participants and spectators alike. Competitions have become a celebration of culture, showcasing the skill, creativity, and passion of dancers from all walks of life.

The Importance of Tops in Louisiana Culture

The Role of Tops in Preserving African American Dance Traditions

The tops, a traditional dance form of African American origin, has played a crucial role in preserving the cultural heritage of African American communities in Louisiana. This section will delve into the history of the tops and its significance in preserving African American dance traditions in the state.

The Origins of Tops

The origins of tops can be traced back to the African American communities in the rural areas of Louisiana. The dance form was initially performed as a part of the communal celebrations and religious rituals. The rhythmic foot-stomping and hand-clapping, which are integral to the tops dance, have their roots in the African drumming and dancing traditions.

The Evolution of Tops

Over time, the tops dance evolved and adapted to the local culture of Louisiana. The dance form incorporated elements of French and Spanish music and dance styles, resulting in a unique fusion of African American and European traditions. This fusion reflects the cultural diversity and richness of Louisiana, where different ethnic groups have come together to create a distinct cultural identity.

The Preservation of African American Dance Traditions

The tops dance has played a significant role in preserving the African American dance traditions in Louisiana. The dance form has been passed down from generation to generation, with each community adding its own unique twists and variations. The tops dance has also been instrumental in keeping alive the memory of the African American cultural heritage that was suppressed during the era of slavery and segregation.

The Role of Tops in African American Communities

The tops dance has become an integral part of the cultural identity of African American communities in Louisiana. The dance form has provided a platform for African Americans to express themselves and their cultural heritage, while also promoting a sense of community and unity. The tops dance has been a symbol of resistance against discrimination and oppression, and has helped to preserve the rich cultural legacy of African Americans in Louisiana.

The Impact of Tops on the broader Culture of Louisiana

The tops dance has had a significant impact on the broader culture of Louisiana. The dance form has been recognized as an important aspect of the state’s cultural heritage and has been included in the curriculum of several schools and universities. The tops dance has also been featured in various festivals and events, showcasing the unique cultural identity of Louisiana to the world.

In conclusion, the tops dance has played a vital role in preserving the African American dance traditions in Louisiana. The dance form has been a symbol of cultural resilience and resistance, and has helped to promote a sense of community and unity among African American communities in the state. The tops dance continues to be an integral part of the cultural identity of Louisiana, and its significance is felt not only within the African American communities but also in the broader culture of the state.

The Significance of Tops in the Celebration of Louisiana Culture

In Louisiana, tops play a significant role in the celebration of the state’s unique culture. These small, percussion instruments have been a part of Louisiana’s musical heritage for centuries, and they continue to be an essential element of the state’s music and cultural traditions.

One of the primary reasons that tops are so significant in Louisiana culture is their historical significance. Tops have been a part of Louisiana’s musical tradition since the state’s early days, and they have been passed down from generation to generation. Many of the state’s traditional music genres, such as Zydeco and Cajun music, feature tops prominently in their rhythms and melodies.

Another reason that tops are so important in Louisiana culture is their versatility. Tops can be played in a variety of ways, and they can be incorporated into a wide range of musical styles. They can be played solo or in groups, and they can be accompanied by other instruments such as the accordion, guitar, and fiddle.

Finally, tops are significant in Louisiana culture because they are a symbol of the state’s unique cultural identity. They are a tangible reminder of Louisiana’s rich musical heritage and the state’s commitment to preserving its cultural traditions. Many musicians and cultural organizations in Louisiana work to promote the use of tops and other traditional instruments, in order to keep the state’s musical heritage alive for future generations.

Overall, the significance of tops in the celebration of Louisiana culture cannot be overstated. They are a vital part of the state’s musical heritage, and they continue to play an important role in the state’s cultural traditions. Whether played in a traditional Cajun or Zydeco band, or as part of a modern fusion of Louisiana’s musical styles, tops remain an essential element of the state’s musical landscape.

The Future of Tops in Louisiana

The Impact of Technology on Tops

Advancements in Online Shopping

The advent of technology has greatly impacted the way Tops operates in Louisiana. One of the most significant changes has been the rise of online shopping. With the proliferation of the internet and the widespread availability of high-speed internet access, more and more consumers are turning to online shopping as a convenient and cost-effective way to purchase the products they need.

Increased Competition from E-commerce Giants

Another way technology has impacted Tops is by increasing competition from e-commerce giants like Amazon. These companies have the resources to invest heavily in technology and have been able to offer consumers a wide range of products at competitive prices. This has put pressure on traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Tops to adapt and innovate in order to remain competitive.

Use of Data Analytics and AI

Tops has also started to use data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve the shopping experience for customers. By analyzing customer data, Tops can gain insights into consumer behavior and preferences, which can be used to improve the product selection and pricing strategies. Additionally, AI-powered chatbots are being used to provide customers with real-time assistance and support.

Digital Payment Options

Finally, technology has also enabled Tops to offer customers a range of digital payment options. From mobile wallets to contactless payments, customers can now choose how they want to pay for their purchases, making the checkout process faster and more convenient.

Overall, technology has had a significant impact on Tops in Louisiana, driving changes in the way the company operates and competes in the marketplace. As technology continues to evolve, it will be critical for Tops to stay ahead of the curve and adapt to the changing needs and expectations of customers.

The Efforts to Promote Tops as a Unique and Valuable Part of Louisiana’s Cultural Heritage

In recent years, there has been a growing effort to promote tops as a unique and valuable part of Louisiana’s cultural heritage. This movement aims to raise awareness of the history and significance of tops in the state, as well as to preserve and celebrate this important aspect of Louisiana’s culture.

One key aspect of this effort has been the establishment of organizations and events dedicated to promoting tops. For example, the Louisiana Tops Association was founded in 2018 to promote the sport of top spinning and to provide a platform for competitive play. Additionally, the annual Louisiana Tops Festival, held in Lafayette, has become a major event for top enthusiasts from across the state and beyond.

Another important aspect of the effort to promote tops as a valuable part of Louisiana’s cultural heritage has been the documentation and preservation of the sport’s history. This has included the creation of archives and museum exhibits dedicated to the history of tops in Louisiana, as well as the publication of books and articles that explore the sport’s origins and evolution.

Furthermore, there have been efforts to incorporate tops into the state’s educational curriculum, highlighting the sport’s cultural significance and encouraging young people to learn about and participate in the activity. This has included the development of school programs and workshops that teach students about the history and techniques of top spinning.

Overall, the efforts to promote tops as a unique and valuable part of Louisiana’s cultural heritage have been successful in raising awareness of the sport and preserving its history. As the movement continues to grow, it is likely that tops will become an increasingly important aspect of the state’s cultural identity.


1. What is a top in Louisiana?

A top in Louisiana refers to a type of dance event that originated in the state. Tops are community-based gatherings where people come together to dance and socialize. They typically involve live music and a caller who leads the dancers through various dance steps.

2. How long have tops been in Louisiana?

The origins of tops in Louisiana can be traced back to the late 19th century. The tradition of communal dance events has deep roots in the state’s cultural history and has evolved over time to become the lively dance gatherings that they are today.

3. Where did tops originate in Louisiana?

Tops originated in the rural communities of Louisiana, particularly in the northeastern part of the state. They were initially held in community centers, schoolhouses, and other public spaces before eventually moving to dedicated dance halls.

4. What kind of music is played at tops?

The music played at tops is a blend of traditional and modern genres, including Cajun, Creole, zydeco, and swing. The music is typically live and played by a band or a single musician, and the dance steps are led by a caller.

5. Who attends tops in Louisiana?

Tops in Louisiana are attended by people of all ages and backgrounds, although they are particularly popular among the state’s African American and French American communities. The events are family-friendly and provide a fun and inclusive environment for people to come together and enjoy music and dance.

6. Are tops still popular today?

Yes, tops are still popular today and continue to be an important part of Louisiana’s cultural heritage. While the tradition has evolved over time, the basic concept of communal dance events remains the same, and tops continue to be a cherished part of Louisiana’s cultural landscape.

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