Category Archives: Dance

The Great Sousa

Sheet Music cover (The Washington Post, J. P. Sousa) ill. by J. Bahr
Washington Post‘ by John Philipp Sousa. Digitally retouched (IM-stories). Published by Tessaro Verlag (Berlin, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

I am not a lover of national hymns, military music or marches. They might hearten the troops but they seldom encourage the creation of attractive covers. At least one exception is this winsome image for John Philip Sousa’s The Washington Post. It inspires gallant courteousness and good manners, not blaring heroism. And indeed Sousa’s fierce marching music suitably accompanied the stylish ballroom two-step. At one point the two-step was so much identified with Sousa’s melody that it was often called The Washington Post. Nevertheless we find distinct entries for the two dances in a tiny ‘dance class’ notebook of that time.

Carnet de cours de danse, +/- 1900.
Two separate entries for The Washington Post and the Two-Step dance (Nouvelle Danse Anglaise) in a dance class notebook, ca. 1900. (source Images Musicales archives).

The two-step dance had been introduced in about 1890: a quick-quick-slow slide instead of the half-jump Polka step or an ein-zwei martial stride. The civilised dance definitely called for a more sophisticated music. Don’t take my word for it — listen to the delicate rendition of The Washington Post by the United States Army Field Band.

The creator of the dancing couple on the cover above is Johann Bahr (1859–1910), a German painter and caricaturist for the satirical magazine Lustige Blätter. We found one of his drawings for that magazine (a mocking self-portrait?) and also a merry carnivalesque aquarelle.

traum-eines-caricaturen-zeichners, Johann Bahr
Traum eines Caricaturen-Zeichners‘ (Dream of a caricaturist), illustration by Johann Bahr for the Lustige Blätter. [ © Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg; source: Deutschen Digitalen Bibliothek ]
Lustiger Karneval. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr.
Lustiger Karneval‘. Aquarelle by Johann Bahr (source: eBay)

Bahr was not a prolific sheet music illustrator, still we count seven of his creations in our collection. One of them is again for a Sousa composition, the Kadetten-Marsch.

Sheet music cover (partition musicale) illustrated by Johann Bahr.
Kadetten-Marsch‘ (The High School Cadets March), by John Philipp Sousa. Published by Alfred Michow (Charlottenburg, s.d.) and illustrated by Johann Bahr.

Now John Philip Sousa, he was famous! Born in Washington, D.C. in 1854 he would forever be esteemed as the American ‘March King’. His father was a Spanish trombonist with Portuguese roots, his mother was German. Sousa started as an apprentice musician at the Marine Corps. He would become a member and later the youngest conductor of the United States Marine Band. At the end of that career, in 1892 he founded his own Sousa Band. With it he conquered the US and the world, touring multiple times.
Sousa made his mark on music history. Being a perfectionist —and also having a perfect pitch— he attracted the finest musicians in his band. He educated audiences by playing classics to perfection, and proved that America had quality music.

Photograph of John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns
John Philip Sousa standing with Camille Saint-Saëns, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Apart from his noble musical career Sousa helped the development of the sousaphone, strongly defended the rights of musical authors, and was in his spare time an expert trap shooter.

Sousa at his favourite sport, trapshooting in 1916. { source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen's Association ]
Sousa engaged in his favourite sport, trap shooting in 1916 [ source: Pennsylvania State Sportsmen’s Association ]
Sousa was not only a wildly popular director, a meticulous conductor, or an ingenious composer. He was also a shrewd entertainer, cleverly adapting his program to the sensitivity of the local audiences. European critics were surprised to hear him launch encores before the end of the concert, often in the middle of the enthusiastic applause that followed a piece. Sousa also introduced jazz sections, ragtime, cakewalks and coon songs in his gigs as early as 1900 at the Paris Exposition, giving some ideas to Claude Debussy.

John Philip Sousa, the Sousa, the "March King". [ ]
John Philip Sousa, the “March King”, ca 1915. [ source: Library of Congress ]
Sousa’s demeanour was always disciplined and his uniforms were meticulous (a valet accompanied him everywhere on tour). There were rumours that to direct he never wore his white gloves twice…

In 1876, as a young lad of 22, Sousa toured as the orchestra leader for the Living Pictures. For that show he also composed short descriptive pieces as accompaniment to scenes with barely-covered girls. The Living Pictures was a series of tableaux vivants that enlivened scenes of classical art and literature. Beautiful women in gauze scarves and flesh-coloured tights took artful poses in painted decors. In the shows announcement, the public was reassured: “The management begs to state that the entertainment will be strictly first-class in every respect, and nothing will be said or done that will offend the most fastidious.

'Cleopatra before Caesar' by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866.
Cleopatra before Caesar‘ by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1866 [ source: wikipedia ]
‘Cleopatra before Caesar’, ‘The First Sin’, ‘Diana and her Nymphs Surprised’… Say no more!
The show was an entertaining enterprise of Matt Morgan. He was a British caricaturist, scene painter and theatre personality who defied the authorities and moral standards. It is said that his cartoons ‘… attacked the impropriety —actual or rumoured— of the Prince of Wales; and most shockingly, of Queen Victoria herself.‘

Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an article
Photograph of Matt Morgan (1837-1890) [ source : Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library. ]. On the right an announcement in the Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 2, Number 107, 26 June 1876.
The risqué Living Pictures spectacle might have been classy in Washington, it definitely was less welcome in Pittsburgh: Sousa and other staff members were called to court on charges of obscenity.

We close this small tribute to Sousa with an impromptu duel between the sousaphone and the Dodge.


Readings on Matt Morgan:

  • ‘Sex, Art, and the Victorian Cartoonist: Matthew Somerville Morgan in Victorian Britain and America’, Richard Scully, IJOCA, 2011 (www.academia.eu)
  • Matt Morgan on Broadway, blog
  • Matt Morgan of FUN – Yesterday’s Papers (blog)

Bauhaus and Gigolettes

'Gigolette Fox-Trot'
‘Gigolette Fox’ by Franz Léhar, published by Smyth (Paris, 1922) and probably illustrated by Robert Laroche.

It took awhile before I pinpointed this cover in the haystack of our collection. It is a drawing for the Gigolette-Fox in Franz Léhars opérette La danza delle libellule from 1922. The image, a thick spiralling red line on a black background, had been lingering in the back of my mind since I saw Das Triadisch Ballet. Or better said,  the video of that ballet produced by the Bavaria Atelier in 1977. I saw this baffling dance piece in the exhibition Paul Klee – Pictures in Motion in Bern. Happily it is also on YouTube and we’ve extracted  the one-minute ‘spiral scene’.

The ballet is a major work of Oskar Schlemmer, who was a German painter, sculptor and choreographer, and also a member of Bauhaus (a school and modernistic movement in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin between 1909 and 1933). In it he presents “his ideas of choreographed geometry, man as dancer, transformed by costume, moving in space”. It is no wonder that the ‘figurines’ (the name he used for the extravagant costumes that abstracted the form of the human body into artificial and geometrical forms) were exhibited at the Société des Arts Decoratifs in Paris, in 1930.

Now, rewind to 1922 and the success of Franz Léhars Gigolette-Fox. We found French, Italian, and Portuguese covers of it in our sheet music collection,  which proves the success of the operetta and its Gigolette theme.

Another cover of 'Gigolette-Fox'
Another cover of ‘Gigolette-Fox’ from La danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar (published by Smyth Editeur, Paris, 1922). Illustrated by Robert Laroche.
An Italian version of 'Gigolette' (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
An Italian version of ‘Gigolette’ (Carlo Lombardo pub., Milano, 1926). Unknown illustrator.
The Portugese version for Léhars 'Gigolette'. Sheet music cover; partition musicale illustrée
The Portuguese version for Léhars ‘Gigolette’, published by Sassetti & Ca Editores, Lisboa, 1922. Illustrated by Stuart (José Stuart Carvalhais).

The Gigolette in Léhars operetta refers to a liberated girl, a flapper who isn’t afraid of a little amorous adventure… No wonder that the ‘Danse des Libellules’ was also produced by Madame Rasimi of the Ba-Ta-Clan: the perfect story to show lavish costumes and nudity at the same time. My Larousse explains gigolette as a ‘jeune femme délurée’ (a young smart/brazen/cheeky woman). One might think it is the feminine form for gigolo, but that term seems to be more recent.
Thirty years earlier, at the fin de siècle and start of the Belle Epoque, the gigolette was the female equivalent of that romanticised and proud male rascal, a member of the urban criminal canaille: the Apache. As in: I will be your Apache, will you be my Gigolette? But we’ll discuss the phenomenon of the Parisian Apaches in another story soon…

Left: 'La Marche des Gigolettes'
Left: ‘La Marche des Gigolettes – marche réaliste’ by Emile Spencer and René Esse, published Repos Editeur (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘Nini la Gigolette’ by Victor Thiels and V. Damien, published by Gross (Paris, s.d.), cover by Léon Pousthomis.
Left: illustration by Steinlen for 'J'ai perdu ma Gigolette'
Left: illustration by Steinlen for ‘J’ai perdu ma Gigolette’ by Mortreuil, Esse & Delormel, published by Maurel (Paris, s.d.). Right: ‘La Valse des Gigolettes’ by Spencer, Lelièvre &Damien, published by Brondert (Paris, s.d.), drawing by O’Varély.

Dirty Dancing: Animal Trotting

turkey trot 1
‘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.

2 turkey trotten
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!