Learn about Life in the 1920s

Arguments as to Jazz being a Nation-wide Scourge

EXPERTS tell in this article the nation-wide aspects of our jazz scourge. They say legal prohibition of all dancing may come.

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

A reform movement has been started by cities and volunteer groups. A committee of women is helping to regulate in Chicago.

It looks as if the common people are in reaction against "common behavior. Decency is regaining popularity among those who work for a living.

Meanwhile the idle rich are getting ranker. There are few signs of reform in high places. The "worst case" was observed on the dancing floor of an expensive New York hotel.

The high-society flapper is still going the limit. She drinks, swears, smokes, toddles and chatters stories that once belonged to the men's smoke room.

You can't reform a society flapper. Maybe not. She is a law unto herself. Perhaps. " It's none of your business and the boys like it, she says. Is that so?

"The boys are sick and disgusted," says an observer, "except the degenerate cubs, and they are greatly in the minority. Kissing and petting have been made so vulgarly common that there is no thrill left in it. The boys have to be dragged to dances, in spite of the fact that corsets are parked in the check room."

Consider that.

Rub the bloom off American womanhood and what is left? The status of the Eastern European female of the species, a bare-footed working animal—something a little lower than man.

High society would better sign on the dotted line of the popular reform pledge.

This civilization will not permit itself to be ditched by any minority, high or low.

JAZZ dancing is a worse evil than the saloon used to be!" This statement fairly startled me because of its source. If it had been made by a zealot of any sort I should have discounted it heavily. If it had been uttered by an average clergyman or publicist one would make allowance for lack of exact information. But the statement was made by a man of the world, a person without prejudices or illusions, one who is familiar with every phase of terpsichorean theory and practice in the United States, an expert in the dance and a professional dancing master. His name is Fenton T. Bott. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.

And he knows more about the subject than most professionals by virtue of his position as "director of dance reform" in the American National Association Masters of Dancing. It is his business to keep in touch with dance activities throughout the country.

He is a big, broad-shouldered man of ruddy face that breaks into frequent smiles. There is nothing narrow about his make-up. He is an ideal witness in the case of the Commonwealth of Decency versus the Jazz.

"Jazz is worse than the saloon! Why?" I asked.

"Because it affects our young people especially," said Mr. Bott. "It is degrading. It lowers all the moral standards. Unlike liquor, a great deal of its harm is direct and immediate. But it also leads to undesirable things. The jazz is too often followed by the joy-ride. The lower nature is stirred up as a prelude to unchaperoned adventure.

"This strikes especially at the youth of the nation, and the consequences are almost too obvious to be detailed. When the next generation starts on a low plane, what will its successors be?

"We have had more flagrant dancing since prohibition than before. This may be partly because people substitute one form of sense excitation for another, a dance spree instead of a bout with liquor. I believe this is done deliberately in many cases and that those who are sober often dance more reprehensibly than those who are somewhat in their cups.

"A person who is partly intoxicated knows it and is afraid to go too far. The sober one argues that he can take care of himself and may go as far as he likes."

"Is there anything bad about jazz music itself?" I asked. "There certainly is! Those moaning saxophones and the rest of the instruments with their broken, jerky rhythm make a purely sensual appeal. They call out the low and rowdy instinct. All of us dancing teachers know this to be a fact. We have seen the effect of jazz music on our young pupils. It makes them act in a restless and rowdy manner. A class of children will behave that way as long as such music is played. They can be calmed down and restored to normal conduct only by playing good, legitimate music."

Dancing Masters Seek Reforms

"DANCING, as you know, has enormously increased in the last few years. It has become a great public institution in which all classes and ages are interested. We have estimated that about ten per cent of the entire population, or more than ten million people, have become dancers. When you eliminate little children, invalids and the aged, this means a very considerable part of the population. Anything that is radically wrong with the recreation of so many people must affect all of us."

"Granted," I said. " Now what is the organized dancing profession doing to reform conditions?"

"We are working in several directions," replied Mr. Bott, "but we have an uphill fight. We have tried to cooperate with churches, but except for a liberal minority, the institutional churches that conduct regulated dancing in their parish houses, we have met with little success. The extreme evangelical churches stand on their old program, which bans all dancing, regardless of its character. They do not discriminate between the art of a Pavlowa or of aesthetic Greek dancing and the lowest performance in a dive. On the other hand our work is appreciated by a good many managers of settlements and of welfare activities.

"We have a booklet and chart which we send to welfare organizations, owners of dance halls and dancing teachers. The booklet describes the dances approved by our association, and the charts, which are meant to be placed on the walls of dance halls, show the correct positions and steps for the various approved dances. I am glad to say that the United States Public Health Service has not only com- mended our booklet but has distributed thousands of copies of it to welfare agencies. High schools throughout the country have been well supplied. This is the third year of publication and to date we have issued about twenty thousand copies."

In parenthesis, I was informed by J. Henry Smythe, Jr., that the unrelenting attitude of the Methodist Church toward all dancing was being rapidly modified, with the prospect that evangelical churchdom generally would soon line up with all liberal forces who want to abolish the jazz outrage, yet who believe in wholesome, sane dancing. Mr. Smythe is a prominent lay member of the Methodist Church whose ancient "blue laws," he says, are not obeyed by a majority of the membership and should be repealed. Numerous annual conferences of the Methodists have lately voted to repeal the rules which ban dancing along with theater going and card playing.

"A nation-wide clean-up of the dance is really needed," resumed Mr. Bott. "The present efforts at reform are too sporadic and local. Each section is a law unto itself or has no law. Municipal regulation has been started and applied to some extent in something like sixty towns and cities. The best-regulated cities are probably Cleveland, Detroit and Omaha. The movement began not long ago in Cleveland when officials asked my brother, who is a professional teacher, to assist in the regulation of public dance halls. They asked what he wanted for his services, and he told them he would be glad to do the work for a dollar a year.

"When we had our convention in Cleveland the assembled teachers were warned that strict rules governed public dancing and that when they visited a public place it would be well for them to mind their steps. Some of the teachers visited Euclid Beach Park, where six thousand people were dancing in the big lakeside hall. There were two bands, one at each end, supplying music for the army of dancers. Each dance number was posted up in order, whether waltz, two-step, schottische or Cuban waltz. The visitors thought they would test the vigilance of the municipal inspectors. They had hardly taken three steps when they were tapped on the shoulder and asked, 'Have you read the rules? You must be strangers. Everybody is required to dance the same thing here at one time and to dance it the same way. Right now it is a waltz. You must waltz and do it like the others or leave the place.' Names and addresses of offenders are taken in Cleveland. There is a blacklist of dancers who are not allowed on public floors,

"Omaha has a punishment for boy and girl dancers that fits the crime. When a couple is ob- served in a serious violation upon a public floor they are asked to step outside. A patrol wagon rolls up and the tearful pair are escorted into it. But instead of being taken to the lockup they are driven to their homes and presumably sent to bed by their parents."

"What is the attitude of music publishers?" I inquired.

Dividends and Public Opinion

NOT very helpful, unless they have had a recent change of heart," replied Mr. Bott. "The music written for jazz is the very foundation and essence of salacious dancing. The words also are often very suggestive, thinly veiling immoral ideas. Now, at the 1920 convention of our association we appealed to the music publishers to eliminate jazz music. A representative of the publishers came before us and replied that personally he was against the indecent stuff, being himself a church elder or deacon, but the publishers had to give the public what they wanted and they also had to reckon with stockholders calling for dividends. That's a fine argument! Perhaps we dancing teachers are not less selfish, but I hope we are more intelligent. No body of men can afford to flout public opinion and the best interests of the community."

"What do parents say to your efforts?"

"Naturally most parents are heartily with the dancing teachers in the effort to discipline youngsters and make them toe the mark of propriety. There are a few exceptions of fashionable mothers, who want their daughters to learn everything up-to-date and snappy and who consider objections to high-society movements as being squeamish. A mother of this type, when her daughter at finishing school was reprimanded for smoking cigarettes, told the principal she thought the art of cigarette smoking should be taught with other accomplishments fitting girls for a social career."

It is no easy task to keep discipline and order in public or semipublic dance places. Last winter a St. Louis dancing teacher of repute, who was conducting a semipublic dancing academy, gave up the effort in despair and closed his doors. To be sure, some of his fellow professionals thought this was an admission of weakness. Barring out disreputable people sometimes seems a problem, tor recognized bad folks often behave better in well-conducted public dance halls than the respectable and virtuous. For example, in a Middle Western city several women of disrepute were pointed out to the floor manager. They were perfectly decorous. They were having a fling at respectability. Should they be ejected? "No," says a humanitarian. On the other hand, some of this class, while never misbehaving personally, may be present with sinister motives of entangling youth in their toils. Men and women who prey on youth as a commercial enterprise find a rich field in the public dance hall.

The United States Public Health Service offers to cooperate with the dancing teachers more fully than it has already done, but from an angle of social-disease prevention which, the teachers claim, has little bearing outside of public dance halls. In short, Surgeon-General Cumming wants to put medical warnings on the teachers' dance reform literature which goes to high schools and reaches thousands of young folks. No doubt the Public Health Service experts are right in their attitude as applied to many if not most public dance halls in cities.

Doubtless the more widespread danger is not from disease. Don Juan never had such a potent instrument of downfall as the ultra dance supplies to every evil-purposed male to-day. The road to hell is too often paved with jazz steps. If a refined girl were alone with a man in a drawing-room and he offered the familiarities of the ultra dance, she would resent them as insults. But she accepts them without question on the dance floor.

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

Jazz Must Go - Part 2 >>>