[Ads-l] Jazz Girls, 1915?

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Oct 28 18:31:03 UTC 2015

Amy West writes:

"Because I do vintage dance, I'm beginning to wonder if the social dance of
the period is the "missing link", if you will, between the sex and music
senses of "jazz". With Ragtime and 20s there is a big shift in dance:  1)
the dances shift from mostly contra to mostly paired  ***"

The waltz is a dance for couples who hold each other -- and which had been
denounced by the morally upright, a generation or two earlier --but the
couples move at arm's length.  The dances that were introduced to Society
just before Jazz music was named and came to general attention involved
couples who moved with their bodies almost touching -- sometimes, it seems,
without the "almost".  This sort of dancing was introduced to Society by
Vernon and Irene Castle (brother & sister), who were supported by the band
of James Resse Europe, a black man.

            Mrs. Herman Oelrichs, who is herself a very graceful dancer, is
passing critical judgment on "the Turkey Trot," "the Texas Tommy," "the
Bunny Hug," "the Grizzly Bear," and the other "inspirational" dances to be
seen at the beach resorts out in Frisco.  These lovin' two-steps, or muscle
dances, or whatever you want to call it, require very little knowledge of
the art terpsichore.  A short time ago, "the Grizzly Bear" was caged, and
"the Texas Tommy" run out of town.  Mrs. Oelrichs joined the merry throng,
and glided out upon the floor to the melody of an old-fashioned barn dance.
            Washington Post, January 8, 1911, section MS, p. 7, col. ?   From
a column "Gossip from Gotham".

            A city-wide police order has been sent out to stop the "grizzly
bear," the "turkey trot," and "Frisco rag" in all cafes and dance halls
under police supervision.

            Where the "raggy" music held sway after midnight, plain clothes
detectives are on guard to see that the dances are not on the program.

            A detective on guard at one cafe said the order had come "from

            "We were told to stop the dances and we are doing it.  They
were pretty bad, especially the "grizzly bear."
            Washington Post, April 30, 1911, p. 24, col. ?

            The Dance Craze.  ***  But the dance craze was a mad whirl,
while at its height.  It has left in its train a collection of wrecks, of
people and homes, that statistics can never gather.
            Variety, December 25, 1914, p. 8

            *FINDS US WORSE THAN CHICAGOANS.  *Dean Sumner Says Cabaret in
West is Mild, and Daylight Dancing Unknown.  BAD SIGN OF THE TIMES.  Not
Daylight Around Dancers Is Wanted, He Says, but Between Them -- Speaks of
Gay Old Men.

            Chicago is not so wicked as New York, according to the Rev. Dr.
W. T. Sumner, Dean of the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, Chicago, who is
stopping at the Hotel Wolcott on his Eastern speaking trip.  ***

            "It seems to me that New York has gone wild, said the Dean
yesterday.  "I feel very strongly on the subject of these hotel 5 o'clock
tea “trots,” and you cannot too strongly word my belief that they are bad
and vulgar.

            "The tea dances have not invaded Chicago yet, and I hope they
will not.  What we want is daylight between the dancers, and not around
them.  One of the disgusting features about these dances seems to me to be
the activity of old men who are old enough to be the fathers of the young
girls with whom they dance, and the no less pernicious activity of the
young men who assume the role of orchid crushers.  I don't know whether
your readers will know what I mean by "orchid crushers," but --" and the
Dean, without going into explanations, intimated that they were a
distinctly undesirable element in the community.  ***
            NY Times, April 10, 1913, p. 6, col. ?

The energy expended at these dances left the dancers nearly in a state of
post-coital exhaustion.

            *** The jazz band players usually lack reserve.  While the
music is throbbing and the dancers are swaying, they get into action until
the air is full of flying feet, grabbing hands, drummer's gimcracks and
delighted exclamations.  The exclamations are usually such as "Attaboy!"
"Oh, doctor!" "Swing me dizzy" and "Oh, Babe!"  Before the jazz band is
reached on the programme the worst is yet to come.
            Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1917, section II, p. 4  [from The
Youngstown Telegram]

           The genuine "Jazz Band" at Reisenweber's, however,
notwithstanding the sober opinion of it, appears to be drawing business
there.  Late in the morning the Jazzers go to work and the dancers hit the
floor, to remain there until they topple over if the band keeps on playing.
It leaves no question but what they like to dance to that kind of music and
it is "a kind."  If the dancers see someone they know at the tables, it's
common to hear "Oh, boy!" as they roll their eyes while floating past, and
the "Oh, boy!" expression probably describes the Jazz Band music better
than anything else could.
            Variety, March 16, 1917, p. 15, col. 1

Meanwhile, Joe Frisco, a vaudeville comedian, was doing a "jazz dance",
which I suppose to have been what was otherwise known in vaudeville as an
"eccentric dance", and connects with one of the original senses of "jazz"
-- "nonsense" or "foolishness".

     Rector's Afternoon Tea Dance In the Main Dining Room from 3 to 6 with
the World Famous *JAZZ BAND* With TED LEWIS the *Jazz King* and FRISCO --
Creator of the *Jazz Dance*

     New York Times, October 8, 1917, p. 3, col. 7


On Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 8:18 AM, Amy West <medievalist at w-sts.com> wrote:

> On 10/27/15 12:00 AM, ADS-L automatic digest system wrote:
>> Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2015 13:36:04 -0400 From: Ben Zimmer <
>> bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> Subject: Re: Jazz Girls, 1915? On Mon, Oct 26, 2015
>> at 1:18 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>>> >
>>> >Mary was a big star by 1912 at least, though I don't know when she
>>> adopted
>>> >the sausage curls.
>>> >
>>> >As a title, "Jazz Girls" may imply no more than that jazz-loving women
>>> were
>>> >more likely to - well, you know.
>> Yes, like "jazz babies," those female jazz enthusiasts who the OED
>> informs us were "frequently regarded as somewhat dissolute"! (The
>> titular "jazz baby" of the 1919 song wanted to be "jazzing all the
>> time.")
>> Because I do vintage dance, I'm beginning to wonder if the social dance
> of the period is the "missing link", if you will, between the sex and music
> senses of "jazz". With Ragtime and 20s there is a big shift in dance:
> 1) the dances shift from mostly contra to mostly paired
> and
> 2) the paired dances "bubble up" (if you will) from the dance halls (as
> opposed to trickling down from formal balls), and there are taxi
> dances/dancers (rent a dance partner)
> and
> 3) tango, which is just an overtly sexy dance
> So, I'm thinking that folks working on "jazz" might be wanting to talk to
> some dance historians and see what they've found for instances of "jazz" in
> the historical dance materials . . .
> (And I apologize for repeating myself if I've said this before. . . )
> ---Amy West
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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