Category Archives: Music

The Kinkajou, one of the many dance crazes of the Twenties

A kinkajou is a small mammal native to Central and South America with nocturnal habits and related to raccoons.

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Kinkajou

The name of this cute little animal was used for a dance novelty in the late 1920s. An article of the Examiner in 1927 explained how to dance the Kinkajou: ‘You must sway the shoulders, tango like a sailor manipulating a gangway, and then change from one foot to the other as though in pain, lifting each foot well off the ground.’

While the dance originated in the 1927 Broadway musical Rio Rita, there was a serious disagreement in Paris on who created the original dance routine: the dance teacher Jean Mesnard, the beautiful Irvin Sisters or Albertina Rasch? In fact, all three of them contributed to the pseudo-craze.

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Music by Harry Tierney, lyrics by Joseph McCarthy, cover by Würth
The Albertina Rasch Girls illustrated by Würth
The Albertina Rasch Girls, as illustrated by Würth
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The Albertina Rasch Dancers in costume for Rio Rita (1927).

It was Albertina Rasch,  leader of her own troupe The Albertina Rasch Girls, who choreographed the Kinkajou for the original Ziegfeld production on Broadway. The Albertina Rasch Girls also performed the Kinkajou dance routine at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, together with Harry Pilcer.

Strangely, at exactly the same period Publications Francis-Day edited another version of the Kinkajou sheet music, also by Würth. This time Würth chose not the stage of the Moulin Rouge as the central theme, but drew a highly stylised close-up portrait of the two main actors.

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Also in 1927 Paddy & Zez Confrey composed The Black Kinkajou. Although the manager of the Irvin Sisters insisted they had nothing to learn from a dance teacher and that they could very well invent their dance routines themselves, it was Jean Mesnard who choreographed the dance moves that were presented by the Irvin Sisters at the Concert Mayol in Paris.

A lot of quarreling for nothing, because the Kinkajou was never really succesful…

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The Black Kinkajou, illustrated by Pigeot

Pigeot, the illustrator of The Black Kinkajou had presumably never heard of a kinkajou and thought a drawing of a cat might do as well.

In 1929 the stage musical Rio Rita was made into a film. A rare excerpt with the Kinkajou dance routine made it to YouTube:

William Makepeace Thackeray and the polka

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William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), famous for his novel Vanity Fair, wrote a number of Christmas books under the pseudonym Michael Angelo Titmarsh. The first one to be published was Mrs Perkins’s Ball in 1847 and it achieved a great success. Thackeray himself drew the colorful illustrations for the short stories and one of these was used for the cover of this piece of contemporary sheet music, The Ballymulligan Polka. As Thackeray was fond of inventing new funny names, the name of the composer Herr Kleinknochen could well be a pseudonym invented by the author.

For the lovers of Thackeray’s prose, we have included  Thackeray’s short story:

Grand Polka

Though a quadrille seems to me as dreary as a funeral, yet to look at a polka, I own, is pleasant. See! Brown and Emily Bustleton are whirling round as light as two pigeons over a dovecot; Tozer, with that wicked whisking little Jones, spins along as merrily as a May-day sweep; Miss Joy is the partner of the happy Fred Sparks; and even Miss Ranville is pleased, for the faultless Captain Grig is toe and heel with her. Beaumoris, with rather a nonchalant air, takes a turn with Miss Trotter, at which Lord Methuseleh’s wrinkled chops quiver uneasily. See! how the big Baron de Bobwitz spins lightly, and gravely, and gracefully round; and lo! the Frenchman staggering under the weight of Miss Bunion, who tramps and kicks like a young cart-horse.

But the most awful sight which met my view in this dance was the unfortunate Miss Little, to whom fate had assigned the Mulligan as a partner. Like a pavid kid in the talons of an eagle, that young creature trembled in his huge Milesian grasp. Disdaining the recognized form of the dance, the Irish chieftain accommodated the music to the dance of his own green land, and performed a double shuffle jig, carrying Miss Little along with him. Miss Ranville and her Captain shrank back amazed; Miss Trotter skirried out of his way into the protection of the astonished Lord Methuselah; Fred Sparks could hardly move for laughing; while, on the contrary, Miss Joy was quite in pain for poor Sophy Little. As Canaillard and the Poetess came up, The Mulligan, in the height of his enthusiasm, lunged out a kick which sent Miss Bunion howling; and concluded with a tremendous Hurroo! — a war-cry which caused every Saxon heart to shudder and quail.

“Oh that the earth would open and kindly take me in!” I exclaimed mentally; and slunk off into the lower regions, where by this time half the company were at supper.

La Lionne de Mabille: trendsetter or courtisane?

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La Comtesse Merlin (1789-1852)

We were intrigued by this cover because the drawing of the elegant young lady is at odds with the title ‘La lionne de Mabille‘. So we did some research into the meaning of the french word lionne. During the first half of the 19th century, the word lionne, French for lioness, was used to designate a young, eccentric, cultivated but romantic Parisian woman of means with an independent spirit. A lionne was a trendsetter in fashion and in thoughts, without being a feminist. There existed lionnes littéraires and lionnes politiques. The term is extensively described in the 1845 booklet ‘Les Lionnes de Paris’ written by the Cuban born Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, known after her marriage in 1811 to a French aristocrat as La Comtesse Merlin. La Comtesse Merlin can herself be considered a first rate lionne. She was keeping a literary salon in Paris where people gathered to refine their taste and increase their knowledge through conversation. Her beauty and her charm attracted le tout Paris. La Fayette, Chateaubriand, George Sand, Mérimée, Balzac and de Musset were amongst her guests.

According to others une lionne was used to describe a courtesan. In French you have a lot of terms for describing a kept woman: cocotte, grande horizontale, demi-mondaine, demi-castor, biche, lorette, gigolette, grisette, fille… like the large number of Eskimo words for snow.

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Le Bal Mabille à Paris, lithograph by Théodore Müller, 1855 after Nicolas Chapuy

In either case les lionnes frequented the Parisian ballrooms. And one of these was the Bal Mabille founded by a Parisian dance teacher, Monsieur Mabille. At the start in 1830 it was an ordinary guinguette near the Champs Elysées. The Champs Elysées was not the busy road it is now but was still very much the countryside. Monsieur Mabille’s sons introduced 3000 gaslights in 1843. Lacking age-old oak trees in the garden, they planted iron palm trees speckled with colourful lamps. They arranged fake flowerbeds and a grotto. A dozen giant poles were connected by fairy lights. Moorish pavilions were erected to house the orchestra and the grand café. This fairy-tale landscape could best be admired by night which led to the brothers’ brilliant idea: they opened the first bal champêtre by night. It proved a huge success and was copied everywhere. The Bal Mabille was a triumph of modernity and exoticism and was only affordable for the happy few, at least in the beginning. Later on it became more mainstream and in the 1860s lost its charm for the women of the upper and even middle classes. In 1870 Le Bal Mabille definitely closed its doors.

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Anton Wallerstein (1813-1892)

The polka La Lionne de Mabille was composed by Anton Wallerstein  a German violinist, and prolific writer of popular dance music with international acclaim. The polka, became very popular as a new dance style and some claim that is was danced for the first time in France in Le Bal Mabille.

That this song was published in Belgium indicates that it was popular outside France. Ina Boudier-Bakker, a well known Dutch writer let her main character Annetje in De klop op de deur (The Knock on the Door) play La Lionne de Mabille on her piano.