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Dance

Tango Teas and Tangocitis

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Marquis and Miss Gladys Clayton demonstrating the tango at The Savoy, 1913
Marquis and Miss Gladys Clayton demonstrating the tango at The Savoy, 1913

London society of 1913-1914 was tango mad. The dance made its way across the Channel from Paris, where it had become a vogue after its introduction by Argentinian dancers in 1910, and was adopted with even more alacrity than the cake-walk or the animal dances. As expected, the even greater physical contact of bodies and its “exotic” antecedents in the lower-class districts of Buenos Aires, precipitated even more denouncement from the moral leaders of the day and from royalty (the Kaiser banned the tango after learning his daughter-in-law, Kronprinzessin Cecilie was taking lessons).

Hostesses struggled with banning the dances from their ballrooms and from their debutante daughters, with an anonymous peeress declaring the Times: “I am one of the many matrons upon whom devolves the task of guiding a girl through the mazes of a London season, and I am face to face with a state of affairs in most, but not all, of the ballrooms calling for the immediate attention of those in like case. My grandmother has often told me of the shock she experienced on first beholding the polka, but I wonder what she would have said had she been asked to introduce a well-brought-up girl to the scandalous travesties of dancing which are, for the first time in my recollection, bringing more young men to parties than are needed…I…ask hostesses to let one know what houses to avoid by indicating in some way on their invitation cards whether the ‘Turkey Trot,’ the ‘Boston’ (the beginner of the evil,) and the ‘Tango’ will be permitted.”

These more conservative ladies could not stop the craze, particularly when many ultra-fashionable hostesses–including the Duchesses of Marlborough and Manchester, the Countess of Essex, Mrs. George Keppel, and Mrs. Hwfa Williams–gladly established themselves as the “chief tango hostesses” in high society.

Soon, the tango moved out of ballrooms and into London’s top restaurants and hotels with the establishment of “tango teas.” These, according to Ethel Lucy Urlin in Dancing, Ancient and Modern, were “held more often than not in large hotels…A fixed charge is made for admission including tea, and a couple of young professionals engaged, who usually start the dances, a full programme of One-step and Two-steps being those most frequently desired, with a “Tango” or other dance of that nature interspersed to break the monotony.”

Princes’, the Hotel Cecil, the Savoy, and the Trocadero were the places for high society to watch and gossip as popular professional dancers like Maurice and Florence Walton, or Marquis and Gladys Clayton, displayed their nimble dance moves between the elegant tables. Traditional theatres like Queen’s Theatre in Shaftsbury Avenue and even the Opera House at Covent Garden cleared away their stalls to set up tables and chairs for tango teas, where the audience sipped tea and nibbled cucumber sandwiches and cake, which were included in the half-a-crown ticket. During these theater-based tango teas, the hired dancers tangoed, and their exhibition was followed by a dress parade of the latest modes.

Marquis and Miss Clayton demonstrating the tango at Queen's Theatre, 1913
The new craze of 1913, the tango dance given a novel spin with the tango tea at the Queen’s Theatre, London where the theatre stalls were removed and replaced by tables and chairs for afternoon tea. Pictured are Senor Marquis and Mlle. Clayton, giving a tango dance, with music provided by the band situated on stage (out of sight) and afterwards, a dress parade given of the latest fashions.

The tango effectively killed the true hobble skirt of 1911-1912, and even the modification–a cleverly concealed slit–was declared an interference. Harem pants, introduced by Paul Poiret, were worn only by the most daring of women, so shrewd couturiers and dressmakers a bevy of more acceptable “tango” attire, like tango hats, tango stockings, tango waists, and tango shoes.

In 1914, the desire to tango, turkey trot, Boston, etc brought society to the nightclub (or supper club). The daring and raffish Lady Diana Manners had been sneaking away to nightclubs as early as 1912, most notably The Cave of the Golden Calf off Regent Street, but now that many restaurants were often closed after the later theatre hours, there was no place to dine or see and be seen after about 11 PM.

These nightclubs–the Lotus, the Four Hundred, Murray’s, among others–could be open as long as the proprietor pleased, and were also exclusive, being run along the lines of a traditional club, with dues and a capped membership.

The Four Hundred club in Old Bond Street
The Four Hundred club in Old Bond Street – The Sketch, February 4, 1914

As was wont, new crazes and fads provided much humor to the wits of the day, and the following poem appeared in an American magazine (the tango had also swept American society at this time):

tangocitis poem
tangocitis poem – B & O Magazine, 1913

Further Reading

Edwardian Popular Music by Ronald Pearsall
The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances by Mark Knowles
Shopping, Seduction & Mr Selfridge by Lindy Woodhead
1913: An End and a Beginning by Virginia Cowles

Footage of Vernon and Irene Castle

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The Castles filmed the first dance instruction video, “Social and Theatrical Dancing,”  in 1914, and as I browsed YouTube for clips of their creative partner and bandleader, James Reese Europe, I stumbled across clips of them dancing (with the added bonus of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939) ). Check it out!

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Ragtime Dancing by Carol Teten

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Welcome to the most influential dances of the early 20th century. These dances have shaped our social dance trends for almost 100 years. Below is an excerpt from Dances Through Time V2, which explains each dance, but you can also watch the dances individually in each section

ANIMAL DANCES

At the beginning of the 20th century, industrialization brought employment to the cities, so all classes of people were drawn to urban areas in order to participate in the new urban capitalism. As the society moved from aristocracy to democracy, so did the dances. There were popular assembly rooms, dancing in restaurants, increased prosperity, and a growing sense of individualism. Dances that were once the prerogative of the elite, were now enjoyed by all the classes. Dancing, in fact, represented a new freedom. People turned to the inspiration of animal behavior for their “Declaration of Independence.”

The animal dances were a reaction against inhibited and restricted movements (as well as against an antiquated lifestyle). New inventions happened faster than dance teachers could solidify and teach. These dances were adopted by all sorts of people without the training or experience to dance in “proper” positions with “correct” steps. Dance followed the new ragtime beat which was built on syncopation. Fast and slow beats alternated through improvisation. The uneven rhythms naturally brought wild steps, thus, the ballrooms became “playgrounds” for “grown ups”.

The new dance revolution developed a few new rules:

  • Parallel feet replace turned out feet. (due to dance steps moving in lines and squares, rather than circles. These angular step patterns reflected the new ‘mechanical’ era).
  • The man dances forward and the woman dances backward. (due to shorter skirts and the need for the man to steer the lady through an infinity of improvised movements. The turning positions of the previous century were mostly abandoned).

Amidst the craze of new dances were:
Fox trot, horse trot, kangaroo hop, duck waddle, the squirrel, the chicken scratch, the turkey trot, and the grizzly bear. The Fox Trot is the only animal dance whose legacy has lasted until today. It was attributed to Harry Fox who created a trotting dance to ragtime music in a 1913 Ziegfeld Follies. The ragtime movement of music and dance began in America, and has influenced our lives until today.

CASTLE WALK

The Castle Walk is built on the ‘one step’.
That simply means one step to the beat.
The one step came from the animal dances but removed the hopping motion to become a vibrant fast walk.

Irene and Vernon Castle, an American woman and an Englishman, created a dance team and a school which influenced the refinement of American social dance for our century. The style they gave, and the steps they taught, became the backbone of ballroom dance, from Arthur Murray to today’s ballroom dance styles. They took the early ragtime dances and invented rules which bridled the energy and enthusiasm fostered by the up-tempo music. Their rules legitimized the new ragtime fad of music and dance.
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Castle house Suggestions:
Do not wiggle the shoulders
Do not shake the hips
Do not twist the body
Do not flounce the elbows
Do not pump the arms
Do not hop-glide instead
Avoid low, fantastic and acrobatic dips

The Castles took the basic Ragtime rhythms and refined them to created an elegant style for all to follow.
In all, they brought grace, dignity, stateliness, good manners and good taste to the realm of social dance.

TANGO

In 1880 the Tango represented the epitome of degradation. It was danced in the brothels of Argentina, where it reflected the relationship between a pimp and a prostitute. Parisian travelers took the new dance fad back to Paris, as a trophy, after their visits to the Argentinean houses of ill repute. When it came to Paris, it evolved into a chic statement for society. It became smooth, gliding, and undulating. It imitated the “sensuous grace of the tiger”. It was “tamed” from the Argentine version. 1913 was the year of amazing Tango popularity, in the U.S. (as well as Paris). Tango teas were in vogue for all age groups. Cities went Tango mad. The Tango was considered an incitement for desire. As the popularity grew around the sensuality of the Tango figures, new figures were invented continuously. Thus the Tango of the early part of our century, contains more than 100 different figures. It was immortalized by Rudolf Valentino in “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, a movie reflecting society’s changes throughout WWI. Ultimately, the Tango became an exquisitely popular exhibition dance.

MAXIXE

The “Machiche” was called the Tango Bresilienne. The acceptance and popularity of the Tango, coming from Argentina, paved the way for this South American dance, the Maxixe, which came from Brazil. The Maxixe was created by 3 converging elements:
The European polka gave the movement.
The Cuban Habanera gave the rhythm.
And the African styles contributed to the syncopation.
The 2-step plus the swooping body movements created a sensational alluring dance.

It’s beauty remains a unique statement from the early part of our century. Its original popularity was short lived due to the advent of WWI; but it was revived in the 1940’s, in the Samba

THE HESITATION WALTZ

The Waltz forms a bridge from the 19th to the 20th century. Its revolutionary youth shifted to maturity in the 19th century.
It reached its old age of nostalgic sweetness, in the 20th century. The original 19th century, 3 beat measure, became slower and was carried by sentimental melodies, in the early 20th century. The waltz of this era was referred to as ‘The Hesitation Waltz’, or often as the ‘Boston’. The essence of this waltz is that it allowed the dancers to “hesitate”, to hold a beat, or to miss stepping on every beat.

This brought the following innovations:
Fewer and, therefore, slower steps for each waltz measure, plus the free form ability to play with the rhythm (due to the influence of Ragtime).

This slow dignified waltz balanced the vivacious ragtime dances. It became the ultimate pendulum for skillful dancing. It is the single dance that kept its dignity and importance through both the 19th and the 20th centuries. As all things change,including dances, still the waltz has remained the crown of never-ending beauty.

For more information, visit Carol at DanceTime Publications, where she sells scads of incredibly instructive videos and books on dance history, or, visit one of the best dance blogs around: Capering & Kickery.