Irene Castle discusses modern dances, 1918

August 10, 2013

Irene Castle (1893-1969), American ballroom dancer and actress
(photo: unknown, probably USA, circa 1916)

Mrs Vernon Castle, who was a guest at the Savoy Hotel, London, in the autumn of 1918, discusses modern dances.
‘Mrs. Vernon Castle, who has not been over [in England] very long from the States, says: ”It is difficult to define ‘Jazz.’ The nigger bands at home ‘Jazz’ a tune: that is to say, they slur the notes, they syncopate, and each instrument puts in a lot of little fancy bits on its own. It requires a lot of brass. I have not come across a ‘Jazz’ band in England and I doubt if there is one. On one point I am definite, there is no such dance as the ‘Jazz,’ and anyone who tells you there is, is wrong. In the States they dance to ‘Jazz’ music, but there are no fixed steps. In the States, we are dancing everything very smoothly just now, but the valse will hardly ever be found on a programme. No! I do not think it will die: it will live in other dances. We get our new dances from the Barbary Coast. Of course, they reach New York in a very primitive condition, and have to be considerably toned down before they can be used in the drawing-room. There is one just arrived now – it is still very, very crude – and it is called ‘Shaking the Shimmy.’ I’ve not tried it yet, I can assure you. It’s a nigger dance, of course, and it appears to be a slow walk with a frequently twitching of the shoulders. The teachers may try and make something of it – I won’t attempt to prophesy, but that is the only novelty I know of. To my mind showy and eccentric methods of dancing are out of play in the ball-room, and freak steps show very bad form. As for ‘dips,’ they are just horrible.”’
(The Dancing Times, London, November 1918, p. 35)


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