Learn about Life in the 1920s

Arguments as to Jazz being a Nation-wide Scourge

Fine and imprisonment for flagrant dancing were suggested as the only remedy by A. J. Weber, a member of the Dancing Masters' Association.

Unspeakable Jazz Must Go! It is worse than Saloon and Scarlet Vice, Testify Professional Dance Experts - Only a Few Cities are Curbing Evil.

"If the jazz is not reformed," said Mr. Weber, who has a studio in Brooklyn, "the first thing we know there will be a national law prohibiting all public dancing. It will be just like the story of the saloon. The metropolitan area stands in need of all the reform that can be applied.

"The jazz is simply rotten. It belongs in the underworld, where it is called a name that would shock a lot of respectable people who tolerate it if they heard that name applied. It must go and leave room for clean and wholesome dancing."

"Don'ts" for Dancing Masters

AMONG the rules contained in the booklet for dance regulation issued by the organized professionals is one that separates extreme youth from age in public dance places or otherwise. Youngsters under eighteen are not to be admitted at grown-up functions. This coincides with regulations in some high schools and also with civic or state law in some sections. Animal names for dances, such as cat step, camel walk, bunny hug, turkey trot, and so on, are disapproved as of degrading tendency. Rapid and jerky music is condemned, while a medium dance tempo, ranging from forty measures to the minute for the fox trot to forty-eight for the waltz, fifty-four for the two-step and sixty-six for the one-step, is recommended. There are ten "Don'ts," which may be summarized:

Don't permit vulgar jazz music; don't let young men hold their partners tightly; no touching of cheeks which is public love making, no neck holds, no shimmy or toddle, no steps very long or very short, no dancing from the waist up but rather from the waist down; suggestive movements barred; don't copy stage stuff; don't hesitate to ask offenders to leave the room. A public dance halt may be cleaned up by polite dismissal of one dozen offending couples, handing the young men cards for a refund of admission at the cashier's office. If this does not work, "fire" another dozen couples. Don't be afraid to lose patronage. All of which seems to be a sound line of advice.

The dancing masters are well organized and long established. There are indeed two organizations of them, the elder and better known being styled The American National Association Masters of Dancing. It was founded in the mists of antiquity, when quadrille and cotillon were vogue. It is composed chiefly of teachers who carry on their business in the larger cities, and there are about five hundred members equally divided between men and women. The other organization, called the International Association Masters of Dancing, is an offshoot of the first and includes in its membership owners or managers of dance halls as well as teachers. Some persons belong to both bodies, and it is expected that the two may soon unite in one association.

The first-named organization held its thirty-eighth annual convention in New York during the first week of last August and followed this by a "post-convention" at Salt Lake City the middle of September, the latter session lasting five days.

Teachers as They Are

A BANQUET hall on the eighth floor of the Hotel Astor was the New York headquarters of the dancing masters this year.

Thanks to a disclaimer of hostile purpose, I was permitted to view the post-graduate terpsichorean performances on the conven- tion floor.

A male dancing teacher, according to newspaper cartoons, is a wasp-waisted, effeminate young man. He has a tiny mustache and a violet-edged perfumed handkerchief. I looked for this chap but did not see him. In truth the men seemed to be of the business sort, the majority middle-aged or elderly, quite like hardware merchants at their annual convention. The women would pass for school teachers with the usual number of old maids, save for a couple of flappers and two or three little girls. The latter were cither children of the teachers or pupils who had been brought on to learn or to aid in exhibition work.

Doubtless a newspaper humorist would find something comic in certain of the male types and in parts of the general spectacle. A piano supplied the music. A petite, comely young woman with bobbed hair and a decisive voice that rose to a musical shrillness acted as generalissimo to a motley crew of encircling dancers whose ages ranged almost from the cradle to the grave. There was a chubby-legged little girl next to an austere spinster, and then a deaf man with an ear apparatus, and then an understudy for Mark Twain in a Palm Beach suit, and further a pair of girlish figures, and down the line in his shirt sleeves a venerable individual with a long, white chin beard as rightly pertains to a veteran Confederate general. The old gentleman skipped along in heelless slippers and revolved as best he could at the musically shrill behest of the bobbed-hair instructor. Who was this Father Christmas, and what was he doing here? He was a professional dancing teacher of Chicago, I was told, seventy-eight years of age and the oldest member of the Association. Come to think of it, he is the kind of dancing master that a lot of parents would prefer to have for their children. He has taught three generations in the same family.

It is conceded that ladies do not use strong language. Yet one of them, with whom I was chatting, suddenly exclaimed:

"I could have strangled her!"

The speaker was a charming young woman of the blond type. Blue fire flashed from her eyes. Her smooth cheeks and forehead were swiftly aglow. She was a keen-minded and well-balanced person of exceptional worldly experience. Why such a state of mind and such an expression of primitive emotion?

"Strangle ? Great heavens! Why ?"

"Because she was publicly insulting my sex through her dancing!"

It was Miss Marguerite Walz who made the quoted statement, and she registered thus her reaction to a spectacle on the roof of a stylish New York hotel. It happened the night before. Miss Walz is a professional teacher of dancing. She is also the premiere policewoman in Philadelphia, serving without pay and charged with the special duty of supervising public dancing in that city.

Miss Walz went to the mayor of Philadelphia in the spring of 1921 and suggested that the authorities should supervise public dancing. She feared, like other teachers, the abolition of all dancing if the prevailing license continued unchecked. She was ad- vised to return with a delegation of her fellow teachers and did so. Testimony was given especially as to "Kaffee Klatches," or clubs in private houses, with admission charge, dancing and drinking by girls and boys without restraint. The mayor declared a clean-up was due and he appointed Miss Walz policewoman to supervise dancing in conjunction with the Rev. H. Cresson McHenry, who conducts a mission.

Work for the Censors

MY DUTIES," said Miss Walz, "are largely the instruction of about seventy-five policemen who are detailed to enforce the dancing regulations. They are taught what is permissible and what is not. Why so many police dance censors? Well, it is an index to the immense popularity of dancing in our city life. We may have twenty thousand people at our weekly Parkway dance, which covers several blocks of space. It is held every Thursday night. There are two bands, the police and the firemen's, with about sixty pieces in each. No jazz music is played and no improper conduct is tolerated. You can see there is work for over half a hundred policemen in supervising twenty thou- sand dancers. There has been a marked improvement since this work began. The police class in censorship is told not to permit cheek-to-cheek dancing, abdominal contact, shimmy, toddle or the Washington Johnny, in which the legs are kept spread apart."

That the reaction against lewdness in the terpsichorean art will have a consequence similar to that which resulted from the evils of the liquor saloon is a fear constantly expressed by all those interested. Nor does this seem to be an imaginary alarm or an unlikely event. We Americans are quiet and complaisant for a long time. Then we make a quick clean-up and are inclined to throw out everything, including the furniture.

Impossible? Well, San Francisco, whose Barbary coast is credited with originating those dancing scourges called shimmy and toddle, recently bent so far backward in virtue as to contemplate police permission to be required for all dancing, even in private homes! The measure was shelved for the time being through a fight of the sane minded.

"A Proprietor's Plea

NO CLERGYMAN in America has uttered such a scorching and authentic denunciation of the ultra-modern dance as a certain very successful proprietor of a dance establishment in Chicago. His name is J. Louis Guyon. He has long been a voice in the dance wilderness crying for reform. He has prospered by sticking to clean, old-fashioned dancing.

Mr. Guyon's slogan for the new band wagon reads:

"Abolish jazz music! Abolish fox trot, one step, toddle, shimmy or any form of dancing or any position that permits the gentleman to walk directly in front of his partner."

An advertisement by Mr. Guyon that has the fervor of a sermon and the frankness of biblical writers in speaking of vice was published in a Chicago newspaper some months ago. In this he says that dancing, our most universal form of amusement after motion pictures, has become a greater menace than liquor, segregated vice or "the brothels from which much of it sprang." He declares that "many of the couples performing these dances should have a marriage license before stepping on the ballroom floor, and—if they had a marriage license there would be no excuse for committing such acts in public." Anyone who says that "youth of both sexes can mingle in close embrace "—with limbs intertwined and torso in contact—"without suffering harm lies." Add to this position the wriggling movement and the "sensual stimulation of the abominable jazz orchestra with its voodoo-born minors and its direct appeal to the sensory centers, and if you can believe that youth is the same after this experience as before, then God help your child. . . ."

Mr. Guyon asks his fellow proprietors of dance places and also dancing teachers whether they are coining "easy dollars" out of the corruption of youth. He says that if they permit jazz music and immoral dances their "effect on the community is worse than that of the unspeakable creatures who live from the scarlet earnings of women, for you are conducting a wholesale traffic in the souls of boys and girls."

Source: The Ladies Home Journal, December 1921. Author: John R. McMahon

<<<< Jazz Must Go - Part 1