“There’s a difference between doing a “swing out” and swinging out.”
In the 1920’s new kinds of dancing evolved along with the new Jazz and Blues music.
Ragtime which had been popular during and after the war was suited to the new music tempos and so it flourished. Old favorites like the Waltz and Foxtrot remained popular due to people like Arthur Murray who ran dance schools and published “How to” books on all the popular dances. Dances like the Tango and Charleston received a huge boost in popularity when featured in movies by stars like Rudolph Valentino and Joan Crawford. Freed from the restrictions of tight corsets and the large puffed sleeves and long skirts that characterized dress during the late Victorian era, a new generation of dancers was swaying, hugging, and grinding to the new rhythms in dances.
While the new dances appealed to the youth they were not so popular with the older, more conservative generation who sawjazz in particular as decadent. This was partly due both to the nightclubing and parties that were the venues for the dancing, and to the style of dance itself. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel “The Great Gatsby” illustates the lifestyle of young people at this time.
It is worth pointing out that in the early 1900’s both the Waltz and the Tango were considered scandalous dances because they involved physical contact between partners during the dance. Once the dance crazes which took off in Paris were demonstrated in America, they were embraced by the public and close dancing became a social norm. In the 1920’s and 30’s the Lindy hop, named for the pilot Charles Lindburgh’s first solo flight, emerged and was the first dance to include swinging the partner into the air, as well as jumping in sequence.
People saw the new dances in Hollywood movies and practiced them to phonograph records or to radio broadcasts before going out on the dance floors of nightclubs or school gymnasiums. Dancing was a major part of peoplesentertainment center and an important part of every party. Schools taught dancing to small children, while churches used dances to attract young people. Tangos, Foxtrots, Camel Walks, even Square dances (which were heavily promoted by Henry Ford) were popular.
Magazines and books on social dancing and related social activities were very popular, as were dance schools teaching all the latest dance crazes. Dance etiquette inherited from the previous century began to change. Parents who could afford to would send their children to learn Tap and Ballet dancing. Dancing was an extremely popular social activity for all age groups. Dance marathons occurred every weekend with the longest ever recorded being 3 weeks of dancing.
Young people introduced their own fashion styles and so the “flapper” and “sheik” came into existence. Young women with short bobbed hairstyles, close fitting hats and short skirts were referred to as flappers, and young men with ukeleles, racoon coats and bell-bottom trousers were called “sheiks”.
Dancing began to actively involve the upper body for the first time as women began shaking their torsos in a dance called the Shimmy. Young people took to throwing their arms and legs in the air with reckless abandon and hopping or “toddling” every step in the Foxtrot, and soon every college student was doing a new dance which became known as the Toddle.
The dance that epitomizes the 1920’s is the Charleston. The Charleston was introduced to the public in the Ziegfield Follies of 1923 by the all black cast Afro-American Broadway musical “Running Wild”, and became so popular that even today, it is still a symbol for the 1920s Jazz Age. The Charleston is characterized by outward heel kicks combined with an up and down movement achieved by bending and straightening the knees in time to the music. Flappers with their knock knees, crossing hands, and flying beads danced the Charleston, and a dance called the “Black Bottom”, first introduced in a 1926 Broadway production. Within the year, the dance swept not only America, but the entire world.
The overwhelming popularity of the Charleston inspired choreographers and dance teachers to fabricate and promote several new fad dances to a public hungry for novelty. A new style of Blues Dancing also developed to fit the disreputable atmosphere of the speakeasy. It seemed as if the good times would never end, however the prosperity and optimism of the 20’s came to a halt with the Stock Market crash on Black Monday in September of 1929. America’s mood changed significantly during the Great Depression that followed.
1920’s DANCE RESOURCES
Charleston dance described – and blamed for collapse of Pickwick Club
Arguments Against Jazz – 1921
Arguments as to Jazz being a Nation-wide Scourge
Social Dancing – 1924
Social Dancing in Boston in the early 1920’s
Dance Etiquette – 1921
Dance Etiquette Instructions from the early 1920’s
More Articles on 1920’s Dances
Excerpts from 1920’s dance articles – with a link to the full article.
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’ 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.
Death by hip motion!!!
I love ballroom dancing! But as i watched the European Championships a few nights ago i had to ask myself if it´s not going the same way as so many sports.
If it becomes so elite that the whole essence of dancing gets thrown out in favor of semi silly staccato twitches (not talking about Tango here), poses and extremly exagerated hip movements it wont attract new dancers.
The whole “Man / woman” interaction just dies and the feeling for me is that the judges and the audience has gotten more important than the partner (a mortal sin).
I DO want to dance the Samba, but i want to look like a guy in Brazil dancing in the warm evening with a beautiful girl (dont tell me Ballroom Samba is not Brazilian, i AM aware of it).
If i do the Cha Cha i want an electricity between me and the partner.
If all i have to say is “Look at me,look at me” there is facebook for that.
To me dancing (even social dancing) is an art form.
Where did the characters of the dances go?
My instructor says that acting is 50% of the dance.
Maybe it is the fact that i like acting that ruins it for me.
Having said all this i realize that i´m a smurf roaring at giants.
I also know that there ARE men that can dance the Cha Cha so that women dont know what to do with themselves.
For some reason i didnt see that a few nights ago.
The Roaring Twenties.
Appearantly Louise Brooks can still make a scandal……at least at facebook!
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