Vernon and Irene Castle were a husband-and-wife team of ballroom dancers of the early 20th century. They are credited with invigorating the popularity of modern dancing. Vernon Castle (2 May 1887 – 15 February 1918) was born William Vernon Blyth inNorwich, Norfolk, England. Irene Castle (17 April 1893 – 25 January 1969) was born Irene Foote, the daughter of a prominent physician in New Rochelle, New York.
In addition to cabaret, the Castles also became staples of Broadway. Among their shows were The Sunshine Girl (1913) and Watch Your Step (1914), which boasted a score written byIrving Berlin with them in mind. Emerging as America’s premier dance team, the Castles were trendsetters in a number of arenas. Their infectious enthusiasm for dance encouraged admirers to try new forms of social dance. Considered paragons of respectability and class, the Castles specifically helped remove the stigma of vulgarity from close dancing. The Castles’ performances, often set to ragtime and jazz rhythms, also popularized African-American music among well-heeled whites. Irene’s fashion sense, too, started national trends. Her elegant, yet simple, flowing gowns were often featured in fashion magazines. She is also credited with introducing American women to the bob—the short hairstyle favored by flappers in the 1920s.
The whisper-thin, elegant Castles were trendsetters in many ways: they traveled with a black orchestra, had an openly lesbian manager, and were animal-rights advocates decades before it became a public issue. Irene was also a fashion innovator, bobbing her hair ten years before the flapper look of the 1920s became popular
The Castles endorsed Victor Records and Victrolas, issuing records by the Castle House Orchestra, led by James Reese Europe –– a pioneering figure in Black music.
The Castles’ greatest success was on Broadway, in Irving Berlin’s debut musical Watch Your Step (1914). In this extravaganza, the couple refined and popularized the Foxtrot, which vaudeville comedian Harry Fox is believed to have invented. After its New York run, Watch Your Steptoured through 1916.