Vulgar Dancing at the Virginia Military Institute

One’s imagination is stirred considerably by a fascinating clip from the “Out of the Past” section of the July 1, 2019 Winchester Star, which relates the story of the Virginia Military Institute’s final ball in 1919. It seems that on June 25 of that year, “some of the alumni and several unidentified girls” did the Shimmy, in spite of the fact that “the authorities of the institute had given warning earlier in the evening that the introduction of such dances would cause the immediate closing of the [dance] hall.” Apparently, “the ‘Shimmy’ and cheek dances,” had been “denounced as vulgar and impossible of being made fit for polite society by the International Association of Dancing Masters.”

Well, as one may imagine, any young man, be he an officer and a gentleman or not, is going to attempt to do something which his elders deem “impossible of being made fit for polite society,” especially when it can be done with “unidentified girls.” According to the Star, “when the ‘Shimmy’ dance was well under way Colonel Purdie, the commandant, ordered the orchestra to play ‘Home Sweet Home,’ during the rendition of which, the hall was cleared and the ball ended.”

The Shimmy was only two years old in 1919, and its popularity increased dramatically that same year with the publication of the song, “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate,” a title which is such a delicious mixture of words; words almost as tasty as, “impossible of being made fit for polite society.” Anyway, the Shimmy became a favorite dance of Flappers in the 1920s, though still considered vulgar, and it was banned in many dance halls. What we now think of as “the Shimmy” or “shimmying” is just how they thought of it, too, or as Wikipedia describes it, “the body is held still, except for the shoulders, which are quickly alternated back and forth.” These words do not do the actual movement justice, of course, especially if performed by one who is blessed by nature with rhythm and with a physique most suitable for shimmying.

So, if you want to shimmy like your sister Kate, who “shimmies like a jelly on a plate,” I urge you to watch the instructional video by clicking here. It will show you that the dance began as something akin to a cheek-to-cheek seizure, but quickly evolved into what we think of today. And if I had a time machine, I would set it for Lexington, Virginia, the evening of June 25, 1919 in order to see something like the following:

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About Austin Gisriel

You know the guy that records a baseball game from the West Coast in July and doesn't watch it until January just to see baseball in the winter? That's me. I'm a writer always in search of a good story, baseball or otherwise.
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