Wednesday, February 21, 2007

'Hooliganism in Dancing' before World War One

The Daily Express has been a fount of right wing bile for many years. Here's a classic example of its historic racism, a leading article from just before the First World War bemoaning the popularity of US/African-American dance crazes:

Hooliganism in dancing has established itself in the ballrooms of today, and the whole charm and delight of dancing are threatened. The modern regrettable tendency to introduce any and every kind of eccentric dance into a programme where once the waltz held sway has now reached a point when it calls for protest from all those who do not desire to see any longer the antics of negro minstrels in the ballroom.

These new dances are now seriously taught in London. Certain people of New York indulge in the freak caperings that are known by strange names, and an attempt is being made by certain English hostesses to foist these dances on young people here.

The most outrageous of the latest dances to be imported from New York is the 'Turkey Trot'. It is both ungraceful and disgraceful in the ballroom. There is not one redeeming feature about it.
Its technical description may not sound very dreadful, but the real manner of its dancing can only be judged at sight. The couple wriggle a few steps together, and then take steps sideways, hopping first on one leg and then on the other, after the manner of a lame bird.

The next contortion is a bending of the body downwards with widespread legs so as to look as nearly like a turkey as possible. After that the couples go prowling about in circles round each other. They may make gobbling noises if they like.

Then there is the 'Huggie Bear' dance. The 'Huggie Bear' is capable - as indeed all these dances are - of degenerating into some­thing more than vulgarity. The gestures and the body movements are indecent in them­selves, and this is not surprising when the British public under­stand that these dances are taken direct from the negro dancing rooms and the night clubs of Vienna, Berlin and Budapest.

The 'Huggie Bear' consists of the two dancers hugging each other and performing a slow, irregular dance with the clumsy movements of bears. It is considered good form to growl during the 'Huggie Bear', and in America they make uncouth noises and sing at intervals:

Babe! Come along!
O kid! O kid!
Hug ‘em Hug ‘em
Put your arms around me Babe.

In the passion to model its ballrooms after the pattern of the 'coloured gentlemen's' places of amusement, society is learning the 'Huggie Bear', the 'Argentine tango', and the 'Dandy Dance'. The 'Dandy Dance' begins with the woman dancing along until she is caught up by the man, who draws her along with the familiar cake-walk steps, side by side. Occasionally the woman falls sideways or backwards, as in the 'Apache' dance. Then they gyrate face to face, and presently they change to a species of a waltz, kicking their legs backwards like hens scratching for grain. So it goes on.

Source: The Way we Were, 1900-1914 , based on the files of the Daily Express – James McMillan (William Kimber, London, 1978). The date of the article is not given but it must presumably have been after 1910, as this was the peak pre-war period of novelty dances.

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