I don’t know why the keepers of our social mores and the monitors of our general morality were so offended by dancing 100 years ago, but yet another item in the Winchester Star’s “Out of the Past” column demonstrates that to be true. With a dateline of Richmond, June 1, 1921, a small article notes that “two Baptist preachers of this city” exhorted their respective congregations to avoid the evils of dancing. “Don’t call yourself a Christian,” said the Reverend C. A. Jenkins of Calvary Church, “if you ever dance or attend a dance.” He went on to say that any members of his congregation who did so would be “called before the church for examination and censure.”
Over the last couple of years, “Out of the Past” has revealed the grave concerns that certain party-pooping patriarchs have raised against specific dances, which I have chronicled in this blog, but this is the first time that I have read about a condemnation of the practice in general. However, in a vein of cosmic irony, there followed in the “Out of the Past” column a notice with the same dateline lauding the “new maple floor in the hall of the Rouss Fire Company completed a day or two ago, and the first dance was held last night.” Clearly, the hoofers here in the Valley were willing to potentially risk their souls in order to enjoy the Shimmy or the Black Bottom.
Two days after that, another notice appeared describing the “delightful dance” held at Rouss and sponsored by the Girl’s Athletic Association. About 50 couples attended, and while I have obviously never met anyone who attended that dance, I feel confident that those young lady athletes behaved quite appropriately even if they did indulge in an Argentine Tango or a Grizzly Grapple.
If you look at the Top 50 songs of 1921, which you may do by clicking here, you just have to wonder what all the hubbub was about. The #1 song for the year, according to this chart at any rate, is a familiar tune by Marion Harris, “I Ain’t Got Nobody.” We remember it because Louis Prima combined it with “Just a Gigolo” to create a unique tune of his own 35 years later in 1956. In any case, none of the lyrics to those top 50 songs appear immoral to me, nor do the rhythms make me want to shimmy, gyrate, or grapple. Apparently, tastes in music and in sin have shifted over the past 100 years.