Dirty Dancing: Animal Trotting

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‘Turkey Trot’ by Oscar Haase, published by Jos W. Stern & Co (New-York, 1908, s.d.); unknown illustrator.

In a time of dirty dancing with sexually explicit twerking, daggering and grinding, it is hard to imagine that these lame turkeys irked the guardians of morality. But they did!
In the early 1900s a number of animal dances became very popular. They were inspired by animals demeanour, knew a fast ragtime rhythm and shocked society. The three most provocative dances were the Turkey Trot, the Grizzly Bear and the Bunny Hug. The oldest of these dances in our sheet music collection is the Turkey Trot by Oscar Haase from 1908. But initially it had no great success: the craze of animal dancing started a few years later, originally from the saloons and dance halls of San Francisco.

turkey trot frans
The same ‘Turkey Trot’ by Oscar Haase, published in France by Edouard Salabert (Paris, 1908). Henri Armengol illustrated this cover, which was  probably published between 1911 and 1912.

Together with the syncopated beats of the ragtime, the animal trots became very popular between 1910 and 1913 in the United States but also in Europe. In France, Edouard Salabert published Oscar Haase’s Turkey Trot as la dernière danse élégante Américaine (the newest elegant American dance). Although the year of copyright (1908) is printed on the sheet music we can realistically date it to 1911 or 1912 because those are the only years that Henri Armengol illustrated for Salabert.

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Left: ‘Dindonnade’ by de Crescenzo, published by Ricordi (Paris, 1913). Right: ‘Truthahn Tanz’ by Neil Moret, published by Roehr (Berlin, 1912) and illustrated by Louis Oppenheimer.

The most popular of these fads in Europe was The Grizzly Bear, known respectively as the Bärentrot (Germany) or the Pas de L’Ours (France).

grizzly
Left: ‘The Grizzly Bear’ by George Botsford, published by Salabert (Paris, 1910) and illustrated by John Frew. Right: ‘Le vrai pas de l’ours’ by Gracey & Nikelmann, published by Smyth (Paris, 1912) and illustrated by Leon Pousthoumis.
berentrot
Left: ‘The Black Bear Dance’ by Willy Michels, published by E. De Saedeleer & E. Possoz (Brussels s.d.) and illustrated by Valéry. Middle: ‘Le Pas de l’Ours’ by Alteirac, published by Jean Péheu (Paris, 1912) ans illustrated by Pousthomis. Right: ‘Bärentrot’ by Max Oscheit, published by Alfred Lehman (Leipzig, s.d.) and illustrated by Telemann.

Bye-bye Belle Époque! These new, fresh and daring dances were a sign of modern times, the waltz was passé. They were easy to learn for people who had no time for dancing schools. They were just a One-Step (a kind of walk) with some special routines, embellishments and humorous gestures (flapping elbows, outstretching paws, kicking or hopping). No special music was required as long as it was syncopated. One couple could dance the Grizzly Bear while another would do the Turkey Trot. According to Walter Nelson “All would share a dance floor and dance to the same music as everyone walked or slid or hopped forward, backward, or in a circle, and assumed a variety of postures – and each would be as wild or as silly or as dignified as their own tastes dictated.” In Paris, Salabert published Irving Berlin’s famous ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band’ as Le Célèbre Pas de l’Ours.

celebre pas de l'ours
‘Le célèbre pas de l’ours’ by Irving Berlin, adaptation by Francis Salabert, published by Salabert (Paris, 1912) and illustrated by Armengol.

But these animal dances became increasingly disagreeable to the taste police. With dance partners hugging, moving too close and being far too intimate, the dances were labelled ‘offensive to modesty and dangerous to purity’. According to one cleric the Turkey Trot was a ‘gait to Hell’. Another one told Catholic parents to ‘shield their children from the slimy touch of moral lepers’ (meaning young men and women who engage in these infamous dances).

the bunny hug
‘The Bunny Hug’ By Harry Von Tilzer & William Jerome, published by Harry Von Tilzer (New York, 1912) and illustrated by De Takacs. (Not in our collection – Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection)

A frenetic hater of dancing said that ‘the Bunny Hug is danced in imitation of the sex relation between male and female rabbits’. Although the lyrics ‘Squeeze me, please me, tease me, while we glide along‘ are suggestive, I find it difficult to fantasize these winsome rabbits to go all the way. Nor did the dance resemble two rabbits engaging in anything but having some fun:

Many European religious leaders also attacked the modern dances, which even resulted in a Papal ban. Mind you, the Pope did not condemn all dances, indeed some were blessed (like the Furlana).

Chaste dance halls soon forbid turkey trotting, bunny hugging and bear trotting. A number of colleges adapted a strict rule that dance partners should be separated by at least six inches. Austere dance monitors enforced these rules on the dance floor. Worse still, people were arrested and had to defend themselves in court for dancing one or other animal trot. In several places in the United States the police threatened to shut down every dance hall where the Bunny Hug or Turkey Trot was performed. Elsewhere, a police officer had to be present at all times to prevent the dancers to hug each other. Furthermore a lot of medical complaints were attributed to the trotting. And finally, ragtime was considered a madness and a threat to mental health.

But you can judge for yourself: a surviving reel from 1913 shows how the Grizzly Bear was danced. Cute isn’t it?

In Downton Abbey the footman Thomas learns the kitchen maid Daisy how to dance the Grizzly Bear.

Here and there balls were called off. The most famous one was president Wilson’s inaugural ball in 1913. Wilson, a man of deep religious faith, replaced the ball by a reception. Allegedly, he feared that in spite of all warnings and prohibitions, young people would do the scandalous trots anyway, thus provoking a national disgrace.

President-elect-Wilson turkey
Left: The New York Times, January 21, 1913. Right: President-elect Wilson prior to the inauguration ceremonies, March 4, 1913.

Wilson’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, requested that the academy where she was attending school would ban inappropriate forms of modern dance. Her appeal was granted: since then students at her art-school were only allowed to sedately dance the waltz or the two-step.

eleanor wilson
Left: The Washington Post, Januari 11, 1913. Right: Eleanor Wilson (Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection).

In 1913 one of the staunchest defenders of modern dancing, the female composer Elsie Janis, wrote the obvious ironic song ‘Anti Rag-Time Girl’, enumerating all the offensive dances that the girl in question refuses to participate in. For the songs sheet music cover, the Starmer brothers drew the portrait of a demure girl, not unlike the prudish Eleanor Wilson….

anti ragtime
‘Anti Rag-Time Girl’ by Elsie Janis, published by Jerome H. Remick (New-York, 1913) and illustrated by Starmer. (Not in our collection – Johns Hopkins University, Levy Sheet Music Collection)

By 1914 the Bunny Hug, Turkey Trot and Grizzly Bear were out of fashion. And the anti-dance league busied itself in tackling other dances, like the Maxixe or the Tango.

Of all the animal trots, only the foxtrot survived and became the most popular dance of the entire first half of the twentieth century. But that’s another story. Doris Day can finish this small history by dancing the Turkey Trot in the 1951 film ‘On Moonlight Bay’. If America’s sweetheart can dance the Turkey Trot, then the puritan interdict is lifted: yeeha!

Marche des cubistes

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‘Marche des Cubistes’ by Eugène Reynaud, published by Hachette (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1914.

Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso pioneered the cubist style from 1907 on. By the time that Clérice created this ‘cubist’ sheet music cover in 1914, just before the outbreak of the Great War, the revolutionary trend was already past its prime. But apparently it was still bon ton to mock the avant-garde artists. It puzzles me that for his drawing Clérice chose the stereotype of the Belle-Epoque artist. During the late nineteenth century the archetypical French male bohemian sported a van Dyck beard. It was named for the Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck who portrayed numerous men having shaven cheeks but wearing sharply pointed beards with curled moustaches. The points and the curls were achieved through intense hair brushing and twirling with wax or pomade.

l'aveu
‘L’ Aveu’ by Henri Natif and Villemer, published by C. Joubert in Paris (sd) and illustrated by Faria.

Also part of the outfit of the fin-de-siècle artist was the lavallière, a large floppy bow worn around the neck like a pussycat bow. The lavallière got its name from one of the chief mistresses of Louis XIV, Louise de La Vallière who allegedly was the first woman to wear a tie. In the late nineteenth century the lavallière was cherished not only by artists but also by students, anarchists and leftist intellectuals. Even Picasso was still wearing one in 1904.

picasso lavalliere
Picasso in 1904 wearing a lavallière and his Spanish corduroy jacket.

A large felt hat à la Rembrandt, a chequered or striped garment and occasionally a cloak completed the artist’s apparel, a distinct attire against bourgeois stiffness.

j'ai reve
‘J’ai rêvé de t’aimer’ by Gustave Goublier & Charles Fallot. Published by Enoch (Paris) and illustrated by Leonce Burret (sd).

It is often useful for an illustrator to resort to stereotypes. For example, one immediately understood from the cover above that the man being lovingly tickled on the nose was either an artist or a left-wing egghead. On the cover below, the message was also quick and clear: the man unable to pay for his meal is obviously a bohemian artist, taking pride in his precarious financial situation and defying the establishment.

dejeuner pas cher
‘Un déjeuner pas cher’ by Will & Plébus published by Marcel Labbé (Paris) and illustrated by Clérice Frères in 1912.
Like the cubists, Clérice naively breaks up his subjects geometrically. But there it stops. It’s a far cry from the way Juan Gris painted his fellow artist Picasso.
Juan_Gris_-_Portrait_of_Pablo_Picasso_-_Google_Art_Project
‘Portrait of Pablo Picasso’ by Juan Gris (1912).
As for Clérice’s stereotype of the artist: the cubists definitely weren’t wearing the Belle Epoque outfit anymore. During the decade preceding the outbreak of World War I, artists from all over the world formed a vibrant, international avant-garde group in Paris. They were ‘modern’ and dumped the pointed beards and the lavallière. They were defiant all right, but with their art and not particularly with the way they dressed.
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Upper left: Francis Picabia. Upper right: Marcel Duchamp. Lower left: Georges Braque. Lower right: Pablo Picasso. All pictures 1910-1916.

Nonetheless, the cliché of the bohemian artist was used well into the twentieth century as can be seen on the photographs below and on our sheet music cover illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

marcel en rodolphe
Left: French baritone René Lits, as Marcel in Puccini’s La Bohème (1948). Right: the famous Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, as Rodolfo in Puccini’s La Bohème (1903).
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‘Avec un peu d’peinture’ by René Mercier, Clément Vautel & Max Eddy, published by Pêle-Mêle (Paris) and illustrated by Pol Rab in 1921.

Some artists even became a larger than life French stereotype, like the Danish painter (and sheet music designer) Sven Brash who lived in Paris between 1906 and 1914. Speaking for him, Brash was an exquisite cartoonist and he may well have made fun of himself in this pose…

Brash_Sven-portrait