Ballroom dance had always been a pursuit of the upper classes, performed in mansions with private orchestras; the roots of the new dance music were vaguely disreputable, reaching to ragtime, bordellos and the black community.
Within a few months all America was stepping to the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear, the Maxixe, the Horse Trot, the Lame Duck, the Camel Walk, the Waston Heat, the Castle Walk, and the steamy Tango. Dance halls were opened; businessmen dashed off to the halls during lunch breaks; the hardwood floors of business offices were converted to dance use after hours. Restaurants added dance areas to their premises -- these establishments, for some reason, were known as lobster palaces.
Dancing instructors mysteriously appeared with exotic French and Latin names, but most people couldn't afford private lessons so instructions and diagrams were printed in popular newspapers and periodicals.
The dance craze was denounced as immoral and the road to hell, and laws were passed to proscribe it. Dance halls were licensed and regulated; it was illegal in some communities for anyone under the age of 18 to enter one. Bouncers were employed in restaurants to keep the dancers at least nine inches apart, the miscreants reminded by a gentle tap on the shoulder.
The Turkey Trot, accomplished with wild gyrations of the arms and much shaking of the head, was seen as particularly reprehensible. It was illegal to engage in the Turkey Trot within the limits of Boise, Idaho, and other municipalities. In one nationally publicized trial a woman in New Jersey was arrested for singing Everybodys Doing It Now and dancing the Turkey Trot on her way home, and was acquitted only after--to the applause of courtroom spectators-- the dance was demonstrated to the jury.
There were no big name big bands in 1914, but a lot of the music was recorded by Arthur Priors Band and the Victor Military Band on Victor, and by Pricess Orchestra on Columbia.
The talking machine put an orchestra in every home, a fact not lost on Victor advertising. Dealers promoted dance marathons in their storefronts; in one case in Memphis the distraction caused the demolition of an automobile. Two enterprising young Chicago women hauled a Victrola off to New York, and set up a dance hall on the sands of east coast resort beaches.
The dance craze was led and made respectable by two dancers of impeccable grace and unlimited talent: the British Vernon Castle and his American wife Irene. It was said that Vernon Castle invented many of the steps on the fly.
As the year advanced several companies began to test the Victor patents, primarily with machines of European origin. Ads appeared for models from Klingsor, Triumphon, Polyphon, and the Triton, Americas first picnic portable, suitable for various excursions. The Big Three of course had their own plants overseas. There wasnt, relatively speaking, a lot of export busiiness the other way, from the US to Europe, maybe around $200,000 worth per month. Columbia did announce in April a line of Columbia-Europa machines made in Germany but distributed world-wide, some likely sold in the United States.
Copyright 2015 Lynn Bilton
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