There was scandal on the dance floor 100 years ago. The half-nelson, body hold, and shimmy lock were outraging dance masters to the point that some were enlisting, not only the aide of mothers and hostesses, but of local police as well in an effort to “exterminate” these and “other imported ballroom grips.” This, according to a clipping from the Winchester Star, which was sent to me by former Dance Club Shenandoah President, Bruce Jackson. Those who persisted in practicing such patterns would be handed cards reading, “You will please leave the hall.” While they were at it, the dance masters were also determined to exterminate “cheap and vulgar music.”
My first thought upon reading this was what am I missing out on? Actually, my first thought was I like cheap and vulgar music, but my second thought was definitely a desire to know what these long-ago dance moves looked like. Unfortunately, I have failed in my quest to dig up any information on these three moves.
There is a tune by Miles Davis titled “Half-Nelson,” but that was composed in 1947 and clearly has nothing to do with a dance move from 27 years before. A search for “body hold” yielded nothing relevant, and a search for “shimmy lock” yielded a couple of videos on how to shimmy a lock and a couple of two-hour belly dance videos titled, “Pop, Lock, and Shimmy.” This might be close, but I’m not so sure. Last July, I wrote about the Commandant of the Virginia Military Academy warning his cadets that there would be no “shimmy or cheek dances” performed at the final ball—or else, so maybe “shimmy hold” is really just shimmying.
This is too intriguing not to pursue, however, and so I have e-mailed Jazz Mad London, a non-profit dance group dedicated to preserving the heritage of early swing dancing. Their performance and instructional videos are wonderful, by the way. Hopefully, they will shed some light on these dance moves for which you would have been asked to leave the ballroom 100 year ago. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.
On the other hand, it is easy to find crude and vulgar music, even from 100 years ago. In fact, Amazon sells a CD titled, The Naughty 1920s: Red Hot and Risque Jazz Songs, Vol. 1. Most intriguing to me, of course, is that this is only volume 1. The CD includes such hits as “No Wonder She’s a Blushing Bride,” “Doin’ the New Low Down,” and the relatively well-remembered “Let’s Misbehave” among its 25 songs. These tunes would barely rate a 1 on today’s Blush-O-Meter, but if you like your vulgarity subtle and sophisticated, these tunes are for you. Kind of like the difference between the fan dancers of burlesque and the all-nude pole dancer of today. But, I digress . . . Perhaps, my favorite song from the collection, and the kind that would have outraged the collective dance masters, mothers, and hostesses of a century ago, is one titled “Masculine Women, Feminine Men.” I find it hilarious, although I’m sure that some will find it quite politically incorrect. Which is even more reason why I find it hilarious. Some might even argue that it has a certain applicability to today. In any case, here is Irving Kaufman: