Jazz Age Tango in Winnetka

07/23/2017 6:30 pm

ImageSunday, July 23rd, 6:30 to 9:30 PM
St. Martin in the Fields Church Hall
7136 Winnetka Ave, Winnetka, CA 91306

This evening will focus exclusively on the Tango as it was danced in the 1920s, '30s and '40s in North America, Europe and Argentina.

The foundation of this program will be film clips from the time, showing the Tango as it was actually danced in social settings and on stage.

What was done then was very different from what is generally seen today, and very accessible and doable, even for a beginner.

Beginners are welcome, and no partner is required. You will be encouraged to change partners frequently.

The easy going and informal program will alternate between viewing films, instruction by Walter Nelson, free dancing to recordings from the time and taking breaks to sip wine and socialize.

It will also include Walter's signature "Ladies lead" exercise.

Jazz Age attire is encouraged but in no way required.

Contributions of wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages; as well as finger foods (no heating facilities are available on site) are welcome.

Cost is $10 by cash or check.

Jazz Age Social Dancing ("The Modern Dances")

ImageIn the Jazz Age, nearly everyone danced, so they did dances almost anyone could do.

Generally, when people think about the dances of the Jazz Age (the 1920s & 30s), they bring to mind exuberant youth dances like the Charleston or Lindy Hop, or the theatrical dances of Fred and Ginger.

What Fred & Ginger did was theater and spectacle, and was never intended to be an accurate representation of how ordinary folks danced. Countless examples of normal, workaday social dancing can be seen in movies of the period but not being done by exhibition dancers like Fred and Ginger. If you want to see how it was really done, look at the folks in the background or characters who are dancing to move the story along rather than to show off their skills.

The most common misconception however is our tendency to assume that everyone, regardless of age, social status, ethnicity or geography was dancing the latest fad youth dance of the moment: be it the Charleston, the Black Bottom, Collegiate Shag or Lindy Hop. Given the complexity and physical demands of these dances, this defies simple logic; and any review of the films of the time will show that these youth dances had a definite place, but they were danced by a minority of the total dancing population - and even those who danced them did not limit themselves to those dances (unlike many current dancers).

Fox Trot: The King of All Dance

From the 1920s until the early '50s, every dance piece in 4/4 time, whether it was Charleston, Black Bottom, Swing or even Rock and Roll, was published as "Fox Trot".

The Muybridge Waltz: The Not Naked Version 1887

This is my animation of one of Eadweard Muybridge's "Animal Locomotion" studies from 1887. It consisted of consecutive shots of a couple dancing a Waltz. First I show them frame by frame and then speed it up to get a sense of motion. I think it can be a unique resource for students of dance history who have plenty of moving images of 20th Century dancing, but almost none of 19th Century dancers. He also did two other studies: two nude women waltzing together and one nude woman waltzing alone. I have left those out of this because people can be silly about naked bodies, and I don't really want to deal with that. If you want to see those, you'll have to come to one of my classes.

A Collection of Vintage Adult Book Cover Art

This particular posting will be something of a departure for me, though I suppose it does have some connection to "Social History".

In the process of dealing with the estate of a deceased relative, I came upon several stashes of "vintage" adult literature - perhaps 400 volumes in total. Much is cheaply produced and, well, just porn; but about half of it dates from the late '50s through the late '60s, when "adult" literature often had cover art that ranged from crude but enthusiastic to expertly executed - clearly produced by the same talented artists who were doing cover art for more "respectable" paperback books.

So, here they are, posted to Flickr in no particular order. They are an interesting snapshot of a moment in our history, at the cusp of the "Sexual Revolution", when euphemisms abound and the word "Shame" figures prominently in the cover text of many of them; but many others aren't ashamed at all.

Note: there's one exception to the timeline. The "Dance Hall Girl" actually dates from the mid-'30s. I don't know how that one got into the collection, but there it is.

Since a big part of what I do for a living is digitizing stuff (I'm really fast) and the collection is about to be broken up forever in an estate sale, I decided to capture it while I could in all its infinite strangeness. There are 206 items in the collection.

PS: I also included the scan of the back cover of one of the books, containing a note that apologizes for not being able to use the mail. I suspect that is related to the draconian laws then in effect relating to sending pornography through the mails.

Go to the album

Classic Smut

The Gigolo's Tango

The signature dance of the gigolo, as depicted in a selection of old movies. A nice review of what a polished Tango looked like in the '30s and '40s.

Dancing in a London Dive 1929

Dancing in a London dive from the Anna May Wong film "Piccadilly" from 1929.

It opens with a bunch of women doing a Charleston and then moves to general, lively social dancing to include a scandalous inter-racial dance. I cut the bit where the landlord throws the black man out as it detracted from my general purpose of showing the dances of the time.

Shocking Fashion Trends in 1920 or The Adventures of Minnie Fewclothes

ImageThe fashions we take for granted were, about a century ago, quite shocking to the more traditional sensibilities. Here's an article from the Los Angeles Times, January 4th 1920.

Fashion or Health?
Bareback or Decency?

by Jane Dixon

The question of clothes is really becoming a serious matter.

Or perhaps it is better to say the matter of NO clothes is really becoming serious.

Whichever way you put it—the issue remains the same—it is better to pay the merchant a couple of hundreds for a few extra yards of material and keep in health or to pay the physician a couple of hundreds for few extra treatments to stay in fashion?

“One must make one’s choices” as they would say in dear old Mayfair.

There are any number of women who are frank to confess “they would rather be dead than out of fashion”

Well, it looks now as if they are going to be dead anyhow.

The woman is not extant whose physique can withstand the rigors of the North American climate with nothing between her and a snow storm but a wisp of material and dab or two of trimming.

The lady from the Rue de la Paix was swathed in black satin.

There was not very much to the satin. In fact, there was nothing to it below the knee—nothing except a row of fringe that flopped dismally along the silk sheathed limbs like the water soaked grass wardrobe of a native Hawaiian hula dancer.

Also, the lady wore sans sleeves,. There was a tissue trifle that began at the armpits and stopped abruptly half way to the elbow, as if ashamed of even this small concession to the conventions.

Here endeth the chapter, so far as the frock is concerned.

A word more of silk-sheathed limbs. The sheathing was of an extraordinary web known in the parlance of the trade as “fishnet”. This term is self-explanatory. At a distance of ten feet it would take a trained observer to distinguish anything but the holes in the net.

With this “striking outfit” which might more truthfully be called a “comedy makeup”, went a pair of those funny little snub-nosed slippers we once introduced in Paris and of which the Parisienne has never been able to cure herself. You know the kind I mean—with the ends describing a half circle, the vamp hitting the tops of the toes and the six-inch heels giving the wearer the continued appearance of a toe-dancer who had outlived her art.

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