Dance is a performing art form composed of sequences of movements that are either chosen on purpose or improvised accordingly. The movements in dance have symbolic and aesthetic value. Also, dance can be described and categorized by its choreography, historical period, the repertoire of movements, and place of origin.
Today, organized dance is a niche activity. However, in the past, 1920s dance styles were a staple of society. Young men and women headed to the popular bars and dance halls where they socialized, smoked cigarettes, drank alcohol, and danced the night away to live music. During the 1920s, these activities were considered indecent and a group of young women known as the Flappers was not able to party. It was against the cultural norms for women to have a little fun.
Popular Dances During the Roaring 20s
The roaring 20’s was an era when popular dance modes swept the nation. Some of the dance moves were considered more indecent than others. As you know, dancing was a popular activity in the roaring 20s, Flappers needed clothes and shoes to keep up the footwork during the dance.
The Charleston is one of the most iconic dance styles of the 1920s. When the roaring twenties are depicted in pop culture, some version of this dance is usually performed. It can be enjoyed alone or with a partner which makes it very popular with jazz-age revelers. Charleston’s dance moves first appeared in African-American dance halls in Harlem in the early 1920s. However, it was not until it hit Broadway that became part of the broader cultural awareness.
In 1923, Running Wild was the hit Broadway show that featured a wild dance to a fast-paced 4/4 tune by James P Johnson, a composer, also known as The Charleston. Soon after its stage debut, it was a dance craze that spread across the country and became popular with flappers and their male counterparts.
The dance consists of twisting the feet, swinging the arms in unison, and kicking the legs. Also, it is often set to exciting jazz music, just like the song it takes its name from.
The Texas Tommy
The first swing dance to hit the dance halls was The Texas Tommy. It was born in San Francisco around 1910 where it is said to have been a fixture in African-American dance halls. It was not until the time when it was danced at the Fairmont Hotel, a respectable white dance ballroom. Later on, The Texas Tommy became popular with the masses.
The first Texas Tommy dance style was performed by a popular dancer Ethel Williams in San Francisco and brought the moves to New York. The dance was then adopted for stage performances. Also, it was performed in Ziegfeld Follies, a popular Broadway production. Eventually, The Texas Tommy became The Lindy Hop of the 1930s and fueled the swing dancing craze of the 1940s.
The dance was initially described by critics as a dance of rotating torque, eccentric and acrobatic. It was the first dance style of the roaring 1920s to incorporate a pause step and an 8-beat rhythm.
All the popular dances during the roaring 20s were considered somewhat boisterous, however, The Shimmy was considered the raunchiest of all dance styles. According to the standards today, this simple dance is considered incredibly tamed. While considering the chaste and modest Victorian era was only a few decades earlier, it helps us to understand why this dance was banned in the ballrooms in the 1920s.
The Shimmy has its roots in dances like Native American Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble and Haitian Voodoo. Due to Gilda Gray, a Polish-born dancer, The Shimmy was popular nationally. When Gilda Gray was asked about the interesting new dance style, she reportedly said, “I’m just shaking my chemise.” Her Polish accent made the word Chemise sound like Shimmy. It is a fun story about the origin of The Shimmy but it is debatable.
Mae West, a famous actress, also claims to have coined the name after seeing the dance in the African-American clubs. It does not matter how the dance style was named; the dance caused a stir. The basic moves in The Shimmy dance style were to keep the lower body still while the shoulders and chest move back and forth quickly.
The Fox Trot
When talking about popular dance styles of the 1920s, one cannot forget to mention the Fox Trot. It was a popular dance style in the mid-1910s and remained popular till the 1930s. Also, it is mentioned in one of the popular dance styles in the 1940s and 1950s. The Hustle was a popular dance style in the 1970s originating from The Fox Trot.
In 1914, a man named Henry Fox was hired to perform a vaudeville dance act on one of the biggest stages of New York. Fox and his American Beauties performed trotting steps to ragtime music which entertained the crowds. This popular dance style was emulated across the city and got famous as Fox’s Trot which later on became The Fox Trot.
The basic dance style of The Fox Trot combines the sideways and forward footwork, all set to 4/4 music.
The Brazilian Samba
As you get from the name, the Brazilian Samba was born at the end of the 19th century in South America. It was one of the popular dances during the roaring 20s to take over the center stage at carnivals before it paved its way to North America in the early 20th century. The first samba music was performed by unknown musicians, however, in 1917, a famous Brazilian musician recorded a tune called Pelo Telefone, which became popular on the radio.
After being popular on the radio, these exciting sounds became mainstream and opened the doors for Brazilian musicians. Samba was popular in Brazil but it paved its way in the Western world. In the early 1920s, the samba was played in Paris causing a real sensation.
The sensual dance moves of samba became popular in North America, especially among the ballroom ensembles. The Brazilian Samba later influenced Modern Blues and Bossa Nova Music.
The Black Bottom
The Black Bottom was one of the popular dance styles of the 1920s that originated in the African-American dance halls. However, The Black Bottom dance style originated in New Orleans in the early 1900s. The name refers to an area of Detroit known as Black Bottom. In the South, this dance style of the roaring 1920s was a staple among African-Americans. It came to Harlem in 1924 where it was performed by Tom Patricola and Ann Pennington in a Broadway musical revue.
Once on stage, it became a real sensation. Among the general population, it was more popular than The Charleston. The Black Bottom includes written instructions that are as follows:
- Hop down front then doodle back.
- Mooch to the left then mooch to the right.
- Hands on your hips and do the mess around.
- Break a leg until you are near the ground.
Nowadays, these slang terms do not mean much to people. These instructions were mainly used in the 1920s to make the dance style famous among the public.
How Dance Trends Changed Fashion?
Do you remember, what were the styles of cocktail dresses during the 1920s? When it comes to changing cultural norms, flappers are famous. They not only engaged in outrageous activities like smoking and drinking but cut their hair short and wore clothes that forever changed the way women dress. Surprisingly, their love for ballrooms influenced fashion trends during the 1920s.
When it comes to dancing, the right underwear is the key. For example, restrictive corsets had no place in the ballrooms. It was because women had to move and breathe freely which means that restrictive underwear and dresses were not allowed or out of style.
Some ballrooms had Corset Check Rooms where women could remove their corsets before heading to the dance hall. The Flappers not only wore short skirts to get the attention of the older generation but to move their feet freely while dancing, especially in The Charleston, The Fox Trot, and The Black Bottom. It is one of the reasons that short dresses became popular during the 1920s.
Dazzling embellishments and handkerchief hems, on the other hand, enhanced the beauty of every move in popular dances. Also, T-strap sandals became popular in the Jazz Age. It was to make it comfortable if you are planning to drink and dance the night away. T-strap sandals became essential footwear because it was difficult to dance in traditional ballroom boots and shoes.
The extra straps in the sandal ensured that they would not fly off when the girl swung her feet or kicked her legs. Anklet or T-bracelet sandals are now considered a fashion statement.
Popular Dances In The 1920s – Why Were They Famous
The popular dances during the roaring 20s were introduced even before the 1920s in different parts of America. Eventually, they made their way to the United States and other parts of the world because of their nationwide popularity. In the 1920s, some of the dances were considered indecent for the women. It was because of their dressing and moves in the dances. However, the famous dances evolved into fashion trends.
The Charleston, The Fox Trot, The Texas Tommy, The Black Bottom, and The Shimmy originated at different places and occasions. These dances were used to drink, smoke and dance the night away. As a result, they changed the way dance halls operated. Now women were not wearing corsets and tight clothes. Instead, they used to wear small skirts for better movement while dancing. Also, traditional ballroom shoes and boots were replaced by T-strap sandals.