The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (1923–2017) is a young adult historical fiction novel that opens in 1840 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The story is narrated in first person by thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier, a boy who lives on the edge of poverty with his widowed mother (a seamstress) and his sister. His mother tells him that there are people far worse off than they are and forbids him to go near the area where slave auctions take place.
Jessie goes about earning a few extra pennies for the family by playing his fife, and he unknowingly catches the attention of sailors with bad intentions. One day, someone throws a canvas over his head and knocks him unconscious.
Jessie awakens to find that he has been kidnapped and taken aboard a slave ship bound for Africa. There, he is forced to take on the job of "dancing the slaves"—playing his fife while the slaves are forced to dance in chains for exercise so that they will retain muscle tone through the journey and fetch better prices at market.
Though playing the fife for this bizarre and cruel exercise is his primary job on board the slave ship, Jessie is also forced to do other menial and distasteful tasks such as dumping buckets of waste.