Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dancing and Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens with his two daughters, Mary (Mamie) and Catherine (Katie) 1869
I have said before that Charles Dickens was not much of a dancer. Here is an excerpt from his daughter's memoir that shows, while he was not a good dancer, he was an enthusiastic dancer. The incident of teaching her father and Mr. Leech to dance the polka must have happened in the 1840s or early 1850s, while the girls were still children and the polka was wildly popular. From Mamie's description, it sounds like Dickens was a real cut-up on the dance floor. He was shy about dancing in formal situations, but eager to cut loose and have fun when with family and friends.

When "the boys" came home for the holidays there were constant rehearsals for the Christmas and New Year's parties; and more especially for the dance on Twelfth Night, the anniversary of my brother Charlie's birthday. Just before one of these celebrations my father insisted that my sister Katie and I should teach the polka step to Mr. Leech and himself. My father was as much in earnest about learning to take that wonderful step correctly, as though there were nothing of greater importance in the world. Often he would practise gravely in a corner, without either partner or music, and I remember one cold winter's night his awakening with the fear that he had forgotten the step so strong upon him that, jumping out of bed, by the scant illumination of the old-fashioned rushlight, and to his own whistling, he diligently rehearsed its "one, two, three, one, two, three" until he was once more secure in his knowledge.

No one can imagine our excitement and nervousness when the evening came on which we were to dance with our pupils. Katie, who was a very little girl, was to have Mr. Leech, who was over six feet tall, for her partner, while my father was to be mine. My heart beat so fast that I could scarcely breathe, I was so fearful for the success of our exhibition. But my fears were groundless, and we were greeted at the finish of our dance with hearty applause, which was more than compensation for the work which had been expended upon its learning.

My father was certainly not what in the ordinary acceptation of the term would be called "a good dancer." I doubt whether he had ever received any "instruction in "the noble art" other than that which my sister and I gave him. In later years I remember trying to teach him the Schottische, a dance which he particularly admired and desired to learn. But although he was so fond of dancing, except at family gatherings in his own or his most intimate friends' homes, I never remember seeing him join in it himself, and I doubt if, even as a young man, he ever went to balls. Graceful in motion, his dancing, such as it was, was natural to him. Dance music was delightful to his cheery, genial spirit; the time and steps of a dance suited his tidy nature, if I may so speak. The action and the exercise seemed to be a part of his abundant vitality.

While I am writing of my father's fondness for dancing, a characteristic anecdote of him occurs to me. While he was courting my mother, he went one summer evening to call upon her. The Hogarths were living a little way out of London, in a residence which had a drawing-room opening with French windows on to a lawn. In this room my mother and her family were seated quietly after dinner on this particular evening, when suddenly a young sailor jumped through one of the open windows into the apartment, whistled and danced a hornpipe, and before they could recover from their amazement jumped out again. A few minutes later my father walked in at the door as sedately as though quite innocent of the prank, and shook hands with everyone; but the sight of their amazed faces proving too much for his attempted sobriety, his hearty laugh was the signal for the rest of the party to join in his merriment. But judging from his slight ability in later years, I fancy that he must have taken many lessons to secure his perfection in that hornpipe.

His dancing was at its best, I think, in the "Sir Roger de Coverly "—and in what are known as country dances. In the former, while the end couples are dancing, and the side couples are supposed to be still, my father would insist upon the sides keeping up a kind of jig step, and clapping his hands to add to the fun, and dancing at the backs of those whose enthusiasm he thought needed rousing, was himself never still for a moment until the dance was over. He was very fond of a country dance which he learned at the house of some dear friends at Rockingham Castle, which began with quite a stately minuet to the tune of " God save the Queen," and then dashed suddenly into "Down the Middle and up Again." His enthusiasm in this dance, I remember, was so great that, one evening after some of our Tavistock House theatricals, when I was thoroughly worn out with fatigue, being selected by him as his partner, I caught the infection of his merriment, and my weariness vanished.

As he himself says, in describing dear old "Fezziwig's" Christmas party, we were "people who would dance and had no notion of walking." His enjoyment of all our frolics was equally keen, and he writes to an Amer
ican friend, apropos of one of our Christmas merrymakings: "Forster is out again; and if he don't go in again after the manner in which we have been keeping Christmas, he must be very strong indeed. Such dinings, such conjurings, such blindman's buffings, such theatre goings, such kissings out of old years and kissings in of new ones never took place in these parts before. To keep the Chuzzlewit going, and to do this little book, the Carol, in the odd times between two parts of it, was, as you may suppose, pretty tight work. But when it was done I broke out like a madman, and if you could have seen me at a children's party at Macready's the other night, going down a country dance with Mrs. M., you would have thought I was a country gentleman of independent property, residing on a tip-top farm, with the wind blowing straight in my face every day."
 (By Mamie Dickens, My Father as I Recall Him, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1900 p. 25-32.)

Charles Dickens, painting by William Powell Frith, 1859

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Early Twentieth Century Dance Halls

Dance Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1914
Since I've been looking at a certain type of dance hall, I have noticed the features they have in common and the era in which they flourished. If you are the kind of person who likes to think about why an activity came to be, I have some connections and conjectures for you.

These halls were built in the earliest years of the twentieth century, and fell out of favor (got converted to other uses) in the 1920s. Their popularity depended on young working people who had their own money to spend and access to transportation that could bring them all to one spot - the streetcar. Dance halls rose with the advent of the streetcar and fell with the introduction of prohibition. Once access to beer was eliminated, people followed the alcohol to speakeasies and nightclubs, and the dancing followed them there.

The dances of the dance halls ranged from the turn-of-the-century two-step to ragtime one-step and always included waltzes. You wouldn't see contra dances (too organized, not enough touching, too old fashioned) or charlestons (too individual, not enough touching, and not yet invented.)

The popularity of the dance halls provoked a hysterical response from local government and police and from writers like T. A. Faulkner, author of From the Ballroom to Hell. It is my theory that the authorities simply didn't trust huge crowds of young people having unsupervised fun. They seem to have felt that it was a tiny step from unsupervised fun to white slavery and depravity.

Obviously, other kinds of dancing coexisted with this movement. There were society dances and formal balls and dancing in the parlor to the music of a Victrola. This dancing was dependent on a particular moment in time, a particular technology, and a particular type of society.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Some Early Twentieth Century Dance Halls

Let's take a postcard tour of some early twentieth century dance halls.

1909 Dance Hall, Olympic Park, Irvington, NJ

I love that there are people in this photo to give you a sense of scale. The women are wearing hats, presumably because they are spending time outdoors at the amusement park as well as dancing. There is probably no place to check the hats.

This dance hall shows up in a lot of postcards. I assume this is one of the earlier ones. See how open the beams in the ceiling are. The hall looks pretty rustic here compared to later photos. I love the Chinese lanterns. I don't know if they contain electric lights or candles.
1910 Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI
This is the same hall. The beams are now painted white, and there are more architectural details (spindles, columns and arches) around the edge.
1910 Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI

This is the same hall and the same photograph, just colored differently. Isn't it interesting how the coloring the swags of bunting changes the look? Both photos show that the lights are electric. There is sunlight coming in through the arches and the electric lights are on at the same time. The first colorist minimizes the sunlight.

1915 Dance Pavillion, Rhodes on the Pawtuxet,  Pawtuxet RI

Now the ceiling is filled in with lattice work. There are electric fans as well as electric lights. Now we can see  there is a gallery running around the edges of the room. I can't tell if it was there before. I believe this photo was taken from a spot under the gallery, and that the solid looking section in the top right is the floor of the gallery.

1923 Casino, Rhodes on the Pawtuxet, Pawtuxet, RI

I can't quite tell if this is the same photo. The photographer seems to have moved a few steps out from under the gallery, or else the bottom of the gallery in the upper right has been overlaid with lattice.

1916 White City,  Worcester MA
This dance hall was in an amusement area near Worcester. It was named after the White City of the 1893 World's Fair and advertised early on as the Land of Fifty Thousand Electric Lights. Like many amusement parks of the time, it was built at the end of a trolley line, to encourage weekend ridership

1915 Canobie Lake Park, Salem,  NH

I'm fond of this one because Canobie Lake Park is still functioning, about 30-45 minutes from Boston. The interior photo shows the glossy waxed floor and lots of small electric lights wrapped around the ceiling beams. It doesn't have exterior walls or little pens for the non-dancers to stand in. Canobie Lake Park was built in 1902, at the end of the Massachusetts Northeast Street Railway Company's trolley line.

1920 Coney Island, NY

I can't tell if this is a hand colored photograph or a drawing. The dance hall looks huge, doesn't it? It follows the plan of several we've already seen, with the second floor gallery, but there is another level of windows over the gallery, making it look three stories high.The postcard is captioned "Palace of Joy, Dancing Hall and Skating Rink. I've seen the double use of dance halls and roller skating rinks before.

1927 Albers Castle Hall, St. Louis, MO

You may have noticed that the pictures I am looking at have a New England/East Coast bias. This one is from St. Louis. I chose it because it looked more substantially built than the others and somehow classier. It turns out to be a fascinating subject. Here is a photo of how the hall appears today:

Eeek! Let's go back to it's glory days. It was built on the site of an earlier dance academy. It was huge, taking up almost the entire block. It was on a streetcar stop, necessary for getting young working people to the dance hall. When it was built in 1908, it was called "Cave Hall," but the name was changed to "Castle Hall" in 1922, presumably to honor/cash in on the classy reputation of Vernon and Irene Castle. You can see in the postcard that it had a gallery along one side, but windows and mirrors along the other. It's ceiling was finished with a solid surface rather than exposed beams or lattice. Both the mirrors and the finished ceiling were details that distanced it from the cheap and commercial "pleasure palace" aspect of modern dance halls and reminded onlookers of the respectable dance academies of the past.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Dancing in The Valley of the Moon

Here is another story that has details about the sort of popular dancing that was done at dance halls. In this case, the dancing is at a picnic grounds. Notice these girls have dance cards, they don't need tickets to get on the dance floor, the dancing takes place during the day, dinner is at mid-day, it is over by 8 pm. I love that the Cosmopolitan excerpt has illustrations, so you can get an idea of what working class young people would wear for daytime dancing in 1913.

Jack London's novel, The Valley of the Moon follows a young couple, Saxon and Billy, as they search for a good life. They work their way from urban jobs in Oakland, California (Saxon does fancy ironing in a hot, crowded shop and lives with her brother's family while Billy works as a teamster, driving horse drawn wagons, and occasionally prizefighting to earn extra money) to owning a farm in Sonoma Valley, California (the Valley of the Moon).

At the beginning of the story, Saxon and her friend, Mary, go out to dance and meet boys at a picnic grounds.

Mary and Saxon. Illustration from the excerpt published in Cosmopolitan, April 1913
Each bought her own ticket at the entrance to Weasel Park. And each, as she laid her half-dollar down, automatically reckoned how many pieces of fancy starch were represented by the coin. It was too early for the crowd, but bricklayers and their families, laden with huge lunch-baskets and armfuls of babies, were already going in—a healthy, husky race of workmen, well paid and robustly fed. And with them, here and there, undisguised by their decent American clothing, smaller in bulk and stature, wizened not alone by age but by the pinch of lean years and early hardship, were grandfathers and mothers who had patently first seen the light of day on old Irish soil. Their faces showed content and pride as they limped along with this lusty progeny of theirs that had fed on better food.

Not with these did Mary and Saxon belong. They knew them not, had no acquaintances among them. It did not matter whether the festival were Irish, German, or Slavonian, whether the picnic was the Bricklayers', the Brewers', or the Butchers'. They, the girls, were of the dancing crowd that swelled by a certain constant percentage the gate receipts of all the picnics.

They strolled about among the booths where peanuts were grinding and popcorn was roasting in preparation for the day, and went on and inspected the dance-floor of the pavilion. Saxon, clinging to an imaginary partner, essayed a few steps of the dip-waltz. Mary clapped her hands.
"My!" she cried. "You're just swell! An' them stockin's is peaches."

Saxon smiled with appreciation, pointed out her foot, velvet slippered with high Cuban heels, and slightly lifted the tight black skirt, exposing a trim ankle and delicate swell of calf, the white flesh gleaming through the thinnest and flimsiest of fifty cent black silk stockings. She was slender, not tall, yet the due round lines of womanhood were hers. On her white shirt-waist was a pleated jabot of cheap lace, caught with a large novelty pin of imitation coral. Over the shirt-waist was a natty jacket, elbow sleeved, and to the elbows she wore gloves of imitation suede. The one essentially natural touch about her appearance were the few curls, strangers to curling irons, that escaped from under the little naughty hat of black velvet pulled low over the eyes.

Mary's dark eyes flashed with joy at the sight, and with a swift little run she caught the other girl in her arms and kissed her in a breast-crushing embrace. She released her, blushing at her own extravagance. "You look good to me," she cried, in extenuation. "If I was a man I couldn't keep my hands off you. I'd eat you, I sure would."

They went out of the pavilion hand in hand, and on through the sunshine they strolled, swinging hands gaily, reacting exuberantly from the week of deadening toil. They hung over the railing of the bear-pit, shivering at the huge and lonely denizen, and passed quickly on to ten minutes of laughter at the monkey-cage. Crossing the grounds, they looked down into the little race-track, on the bed of a natural amphitheater where the early afternoon games were to take place. After that they explored the woods, threaded by countless paths, ever opening out in new surprises of green-painted rustic tables and benches in leafy nooks, many of which were already preempted by family parties. On a grassy slope, tree surrounded, they spread a newspaper and sat down on the short grass already tawny-dry under the California sun. Half were they minded to do this because of the grateful indolence after six days of insistent motion, half in conservation for the hours of dancing to come.

(The girls talk about boys and weightier issues.)
A strain of music from the dancing pavilion brought both girls scrambling to their feet.
"We can get a couple of dances in before we eat," Mary proposed. "An' then it'll be afternoon an' all the fellows'll be here. Most of them are pinchers—that's why they don't come early, so as to get out of taking the girls to dinner. But Bert's free with his money, an' so is Billy. If we can beat the other girls to it, they'll take us to the restaurant. Come on, hurry, Saxon."

There were few couples on the floor when they arrived at the pavilion, and the two girls essayed the first waltz together.
"There's Bert now," Saxon whispered, as they came around the second time.
"Don't take any notice of them," Mary whispered back. "We'll just keep on goin.' They needn't think we're chasin' after them."
But Saxon noted the heightened color in the other's cheek, and felt her quicker breathing.
"Did you see that other one?" Mary asked, as she backed Saxon in a long slide across the far end of the pavilion. "That was Billy Roberts. Bert said he'd come. He'll take you to dinner, and Bert'll take me. It's goin' to be a swell day, you'll see. My! I only wish the music'll hold out till we can get back to the other end."
Down the long floor they danced, on mantrapping and dinner-getting intent, two fresh young things that undeniably danced well and that were delightfully surprised when the music stranded them perilously near to their desire.

Bert and Mary addressed each other with their given names, but to Saxon Bert was "Mr. Wanhope," though he called her by her first name. The only introduction was of Saxon and Billy Roberts. Mary carried it off with a flurry of nervous carelessness.
"Mr. Roberts—Miss Brown. She's my best friend. Her first name's Saxon. Ain't it a scream of a name?"
"Sounds good to me," Billy retorted, hat off and hand extended. "Pleased to meet you, Miss Brown."

(I've deleted an extended passage where Saxon notices exactly how attractive Billy is. She is smitten. But we're not terribly interested because that passage doesn't talk about dancing. Next, Billy decides he will be her only partner, so he writes his name across all the slots in her program. In an earlier description of her shabby little room in her brother's home, it mentions "From the gas-fixture hung a tangled bunch of well-scribbled dance programs.")

As he took her program and skirmished and joked after the way of young men, she realized the immediacy of delight she had taken in him. Never in her life had she been so affected by any man. She wondered to herself, Is this the man? 

He danced beautifully. The joy was hers that good dancers take when they have found a good dancer for a partner. The grace of those slow-moving certain muscles of his accorded perfectly with the rhythm of the music. There was never doubt, never a betrayal of indecision. She glanced at Bert, dancing "tough" with Mary, caroming down the long floor with more than one collision with the increasing couples. Graceful himself in his slender, tall, lean stomached way, Bert was accounted a good dancer; yet Saxon did not remember ever having danced with him with keen pleasure. Just a bit of a jerk spoiled his dancing—a jerk that did not occur, usually, but that always impended. There was something spasmodic in his mind. He was too quick, or he continually threatened to be too quick. He always seemed just on the verge of overrunning the time. It was disquieting. He made for unrest.

"You're a dream of a dancer," Billy Roberts was saying to her. "I've heard lots of the fellows talk about your dancing."
"I love it," she answered.
But from the way she said it he sensed her reluctance to speak, and danced on in silence, while she warmed with the appreciation of a woman for gentle consideration. Gentle consideration was a thing rarely encountered in the life she lived. Is this the man? She remembered Mary's "I'd marry him to-morrow," and caught herself speculating on marrying Billy Roberts by the next day—if he asked her.

With eyes that dreamily desired to close, she moved on in the arms of this masterful, guiding pressure. A prize-fighter! She experienced a thrill of wickedness as she thought of what Sarah would say could she see her now. Only he wasn't a prize-fighter, but a teamster.
Came an abrupt lengthening of step, the guiding pressure grew more compelling, and she was caught up and carried along, though her velvet-shod feet never left the floor. Then came the sudden control down to the shorter step again, and she felt herself being held slightly from him so that he might look into her face and laugh with her in joy at the exploit. At the end, as the band slowed in the last bars, they, too, slowed, their dance fading with the music in a lengthening glide that ceased with the last lingering tone.

"We're sure cut out for each other when it comes to dancin'," he said, as they made their way to rejoin the other couple.
"It was a dream," she replied.
So low was her voice that he bent to hear, and saw the flush in her cheeks that seemed communicated to her eyes, which were softly warm and sensuous. He took the program from her and gravely and gigantically wrote his name across all the length of it.
"An' now it's no good," he dared." Ain't no need for it."
He tore it across and tossed it aside.
"Me for you, Saxon, for the next," was Bert's greeting, as they came up. "You take Mary for the next whirl, Bill."
"Nothin' doin', Bo," was the retort. "Me an' Saxon's framed up to last the day."

"Watch out for him, Saxon," Mary warned facetiously. "He's liable to get a crush on you."
"I guess I know a good thing when I see it," Billy responded gallantly.
"And so do I," Saxon aided and abetted.
"I'd 'a' known you if I'd seen you in the dark," Billy added.
Mary regarded them with mock alarm, and Bert said good-naturedly:
"All I got to say is you ain't wastin' any time gettin' together. Just the same, if you can spare a few minutes from each other after a couple more whirls, Mary an' me'd be complimented to have your presence at dinner."
"Just like that," chimed Mary.
"Quit your kiddin'," Billy laughed back, turning his head to look into Saxon's eyes. "Don't listen to 'em. They're grouched because they got to dance together. Bert's a rotten dancer, and Mary ain't so much. Come on, there she goes. See you after two more dances."

Saxon, Billy, Mary and Bert at the restaurant. Illustration from Cosmopolitan April 1913.

They had dinner in the open-air, treewalled dining-room, and Saxon noted that it was Billy who paid the reckoning for the four. They knew many of the young men and women at the other tables, and greetings and fun flew back and forth.

(Saxon and Billy have a long conversation where they discover that they are from good Anglo-Saxon American stock. Jack London was a racist, though not really out of line with the time in which he was living. At the end of their dinner, there is an incident where a man tries to pick a fight, but backs down and acts with great respect as soon as he finds out who Billy is.)

 After dinner there were two dances in the pavilion, and then the band led the way to the race track for the games. The dancers followed, and all through the grounds the picnic parties left their tables to join in. Five thousand packed the grassy slopes of the amphitheater and swarmed inside the race track.

(At this point, the entire amphitheater breaks into a huge brawl, with men throwing punches and women fighting and an old woman swinging a rock in a stocking. Various combatants threaten Saxon, but Billy defends her by punching everyone who comes near. In spite of the dancing, this is truly a Jack London novel. As suddenly as the brawl broke out it ends. The participants settle down and dust themselves off and shake hands. London does not say when the dancing resumes or how long it lasts, but there does seem to be more dancing before the day ends.)

At eight o'clock the Al Vista band played "Home, Sweet .Home," and, following the hurried rush through the twilight to the picnic train, the four managed to get double seats' facing each other. When the aisles and platforms were packed by the hilarious crowd, the train pulled out for the short run from the suburbs into Oakland.

(Jack London, The Valley of the Moon,  New York, The MacMillan Co. 1913, p. 10-14)

The Valley of the Moon - Frontispiece

The Valle of the Moon - 1913 ed.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Black Shame of It - a short story with details about 1915 dance halls

The Green Book Magazine, October, 1915

I couldn't resist posting the entire story. It has a number of details about the dance hall and the dancing. 


 The Black Shame of It

Here is Mally Creigh a-traipsing out every night, and the wee kiddies alone. So let's go dance with Mally. 

By John Barton Oxford
Author of "Links of the Fetters," "The Knothole in the Seventeenth Board." etc.

THE thing that has drawn me to you is that new suit of yours. I notice it is one of the latest suits, of the proper shade; the coat, with a soft rolling collar and without shoulder-pads, buttoning with a single button in the vicinity of the solar plexus. It is just the sort of a suit I'm after—one that will make a man look attractively prosperous—as if, say, he were drawing down something like twelve dollars and a half per and didn't care how his money went.

Now, how about shoes? Got a pair of tans with the near-elk soles and the red rubber heels? And are you possessed of an almost-Panama hat? Say, this is luck! You see, I want to borrow that suit and hat and those shoes. Incidentally I want to borrow you inside them, provided you can do the steps of these new dances, the walky, hoppy, glidy ones, the fox-trot and the grapevine and the rest of 'em.
Yes, I want to borrow you, clothes and all, for somehow, in spite of them, you look a pretty decent sort underneath and withal possessed of some understanding. I want you to take a little run down to Drury's at Saltmeadow Beach and dance with Mally Creigh. I want you to keep your eyes open and report to me. Mrs. Costello, who lives just across the hall from Mally, says the authorities ought to be "spoke to" about her. Never mind why, nor how I am interested in Mally Creigh.

Mally is the girl with the blue-black hair, the over-white face and the big eyes, who works—when there is any work—in the stitching-room of the Forbes & Haskell factory down on Middle Street. Things have been mighty quiet at Forbes & Haskell's, as well as at pretty much every other factory in town, since the first of May.

Moreover with so many people idle and willing to grab the first thing with a dollar in it that turns up, Mally hasn't been able to earn a cent for several months. Mally, too, has responsibilities—Ula, aged six, and Thane, four. Her mother had died when Thane was two. Just four months later her father, slightly confused at the time, had mistaken one of the iron gates in the fence along the old canal for the door of Mitch Brodie's saloon. The gate, being locked, had incensed him extremely. For why should Mitch Brodie's door be shut upon so good a customer as he? The infamy of the thing made him put his shoulder against the gate, the while he roared threats against Mitch Brodie at the top of his voice. Queal Creigh was a big man and a powerful man. Wherefore the gate finally gave way beneath his assaults with disastrous results. It being late at night, there were no passers-by in the vicinity to hear the great to-do in the chilly waters of the old canal and fish him out in time.

THUS it came about that Mally took up the upkeep and support of the two little rooms on the second floor of the old wooden barracks on River Street, which the Creighs had been pleased to call home. Figure it out for yourself. There wasn't anything over on Mally's wages in the stitching-room at Forbes & Haskell's. Nor was there anything laid by for the rainy day that came with the shut-down in May. It was a factory man who owned the old barracks on River Street—a prudent cutter, who had seen hard times himself; so the matter of standing off the rent for a while was fixed with comparative ease. The matter of daily bread for two small mouths—Mally didn't count in her own in the estimate: anything would do for her—was not so amenable to arrangement. There would undoubtedly be work in the fall, she had been told at the factory, plenty of work in the fall; but in the meantime—ah, in the meantime!

One would have thought, after tramping about all day, ostensibly trying to find work of some sort, that Mally would have stayed in nights. You'd have thought for one thing she'd have been too tired to go out seeking diversion; you'd have thought, for another thing, she would have wanted to stay with Thane and Ula. Good kiddies, Thane and Ula, both of them— quiet, pretty, well-behaved little tykes. Ask Mrs. Costello, across the hall. She'll tell you. She shook her head often over Mally because of those two mites dependent on her, as well as because Mally was much prettier than Mrs. Costello's own Nora, of about Mally's age.

Mally, you see, despite the lack of work and the fact that the two kiddies look anything but well-fed, is traipsing off every night of her life. Where? "God knows," says Mrs. Costello with a shake of her head. Nora says she saw her down to Saltmeadow Beach last Wednesday night, and again Thursday night. The black shame of it; and them two young ones all sole alone in the place till after midnight. Nora says she was dancing at Drury's with a lot of "flashy-lookin' guys." She says it with very virtuous contempt—in that Nora couldn't get any sort of a "guy" to dance with her, flashy or otherwise.

Mrs. Costello reiterates monotonously that the authorities "oughter be spoke to" about it. Mrs. Costello, if the truth be known, has been earwigging me. It isn't necessary to repeat to you all Mrs. Costello has been saying of late. You know well enough what it would be, and with what sighs and frowns and narrowing of the eyes, yet withal with what evident relish, it would all be retailed by one of Mrs. Costello's stamp. Yet there is enough in what she has said to set me thinking. So I want you to go down to Saltmeadow Beach and dance with Mally to-night.

I'm convinced, from what Mrs. Costello has said, that she goes there every evening. It's upwards of four miles down there and not a step less back. Things I have heard make me think Mally generally walks—at least going. Even four miles is a pretty sweet little tramp after you've been poking about all day, especially if you expect to dance a greater part of the evening.

But you never can tell what a girl of Mally's age will or will not do when she's tired and discouraged and hungry for a little fun to shut out the grim, realities of life for a few hours.

Are you ready? Say, you look just as I wanted you to look. You're like the young chaps I've heard Mally has been dancing with down there. The way you droop that cigarette out of the corner of your mouth gives you a devil-may-care sort of air; it whispers, too, that you'll loosen up well with the seven-thirty-five roll in your pocket, left from last Saturday night's pay. You'll do in every respect, I imagine. Go to it! Cars leave the comer of Main and Prospect Street three times an hour—on the hour, twenty minutes past and twenty minutes of. You can get the twenty-minutes-past car if you hustle a little.

BY the skin of your teeth you manage to catch that twenty-minutes-past-the-hour car and swing yourself aboard. The evening being overcast and rather cold for midsummer, you pull down the curtain and huddle in a corner of the seat. It is rather late to be heading for Saltmeadow Beach. This, and the easterly chill of the evening, make the car anything but crowded. There are, however, several young couples, seated very close together in the corners by the down-drawn curtains, scattered through the seats.

Having been to Saltmeadow Beach many times before, you can orient yourself quite well with your ears; the hollow rumble of car-wheels tells you you are crossing the long wooden bridge over Cauliflower Creek; the whistle of wind against the curtains assures you of the greater speed of the car across the marshy stretches, from which your destination takes its name.

Then a rush of brighter lights dims the light of your car; a confused jumble of supposedly musical excerpts from orchestras and automatic pianos and the steam-pipes of the merry-go-rounds, together with a raucous bray of venders and fakirs, smites your ear. The car draws up at the waiting-station in the "Plaza," as it is grandly termed. The meek conductor squawks: "End o' the rowte. All out!" and begins to reverse the seat-backs. You follow his admonition and land in the heart of Saltmeadow Beach's gay night life.

Saltmeadow Beach is fed by a shoe town and two mill towns. Its diversions are of the catch-penny variety. The nickel is the standard fee, the dime the exceptional and the unpopular one.

HAVING a commission to fulfill, you fare forth to fill it. You know that Mally Creigh will be found at Drury's Pavilion. Drury's is the most popular dancing place at Saltmeadow. Its orchestra blares forth above the surrounding din. Its big electric sign twinkles on the peak of the roof, now red, now green, now white. It is a big, square, open place with a corridor for spectators running all about it. Its floor glistens with wax hastily administered after every fourth dance by bustling, shirt-sleeved gentlemen with long-handled contrivances, looking like overgrown mops.

Tickets, purchased in advance, of course, are a nickel apiece—six for a quarter. You mount the steps, invest two bits and look about for Mally Creigh.

A twilight waltz is on as you pass down the open corridor on one side. Twilight waltzes are very popular at Drury's, so the floor is crowded. They used to be moonlight waltzes a few seasons ago. They were danced with all the lights out, save only a feeble glow in the little raised niche where the orchestra perspired at its labors. A great and beneficent State, regardful of the welfare and morals of its citizens, passed a law against moonlight waltzes or any other dances in a darkened public hall. The lights should not be extinguished during any dance, said this carefully framed law. Drury got round it by calling his waltzes twilight instead of moonlight and putting dimmers on his lights—very, very dim dimmers. None of his lights were out, oh no, indeed; but you had to look very carefully to see them—or anything else— during the progress of a twilight waltz.

There is no use looking for Mally Creigh in that feeble light. You couldn't distinguish your closest friend's features three feet away. So you lean against an upright and watch dim shapes flit past in the gloom, and listen to the riot of applause every time the orchestra stops until it has given the patrons four encores. Drury can afford encores with the dancing floor packed as it is. It is he who signals the orchestra from his lookout well up toward the roof-peak, with a little red light.

But at last the lights flash up to their full glow. The orchestra puts down its instruments with an air at once of finality and relief, and mops perspiring faces. The dancers begin reluctantly to jam through the exits into the corridor and to fish out fresh tickets. It being a fourth dance, the shirt-sleeved gentlemen with the overgrown mops fall desperately to work upon the floor, which takes on an alluring glisten in their train. Peanuts crackle; cigarettes everywhere send up their reek. The orchestra leader hangs up the printed placard, "Two-step," for the coming dance, and Drury's is ready for the next terpsichorean orgy.

You stroll through the jam into the corridor on the other side of the floor. You are casting quick, covert glances at every girl you pass. Many of them are returning you glances not at all covert, coupled with giggly smiles. You look quite prosperous enough to be well supplied with dance-tickets.

Remembering that commission, however, you pass them up, one and all. And you see Mally Creigh at last, far down the corridor, close to the little raised pen in which the musicians are incarcerated. Mally is shaking her head firmly in negation to the invitations of a pasty-faced, bulbous-nosed young man, who finally turns from her, more or less sheepishly.

You recognize Mally partly because you have once seen her in the stitchingroom at Forbes & Haskell's, partly by descriptions furnished you before you set out on this errand—whatever the errand is.

YOU are not sure whether Mally strikes your own private tastes in feminine beauty or not. First you are sure she doesn't; then you are sure she does; then you go back to your first conclusion, waver and realize that somehow hers is a face that draws you strangely.

Mally, somewhat to your surprise, is very well dressed. The blue silk waist is somehow very becoming to her, and so is the plain, but trim, little skirt of a darker hue. Of course you cannot know that the waist is an old one of Nora Costello's, bought second-hand and made over by Mally herself; nor that the material of that skirt, likewise Mally's handiwork, has done years of yeoman service in the Creigh family. You notice the little black pumps and above them a pair of shapely silk-clad ankles. Well, some one left those pumps at Piscapo's to be mended and failed to call for them. Mally bartered an old pair of high shoes with Piscapo for them. As for the silk stockings, there is not the slightest reason why you should imagine that six inches above the ankle they shamelessly reverted to mercerized cotton, nor is it relevant how long Mally had treasured them, nor how many times the feet of them had been mended.

Then you come to the realization that you are standing there staring at Mally, and that under your fixed scrutiny, Mally is flushing a little and smiling a little—a rather timid but none the less tentative smile. The other girls, many of them, you have passed, have smiled at you, but it is not the same as Mally's. Where their smiles said, "Aw, come on, 'bo. Loosen up with some of them tickets you got 'n your pocket and gimme one turn outer 'em," hers seemed to say, "If you asked me— asked me nicely—I might dance with you."

Off comes your hat. You step a little nearer. Mally flushes in more pronounced fashion. You are very sure now she is pretty.
You say, "If you wouldn't mind a turn with me—"
You say it very meekly, at the same time drawing out all your tickets—the six of them you got at the wicket for your two-bit piece.
Mally looks at you keenly for a moment, takes you all in from head to foot.
"Why, no," she says. "I don't mind. It's a two-step, isn't it?"

The orchestra brays. The shuffling of feet, beginning faintly, momentarily grows louder. You lead Mally to the nearest entrance to the shining floor. One of your tickets goes to the eagle-eyed attendant there—he helps with the mop affairs after every fourth dance— and you and Mally are skimming over the fresh coat of wax. She dances well; she neither drags nor falters; you cannot feel an ounce of weight of her on your arms. And all the time you are dancing, and in the little pauses when the orchestra has stopped and you are applauding with the rest for an encore, Mally's eyes are quietly taking your measure. You know it; you see it; you feel it.

When the two-step is over and the placard, "Hesitation," has been displayed, Mally agrees to dance that with you too. But after that comes a twilight waltz, and Mally shakes her head. She does it with much finality.
"I don't dance them now, with anybody," she explains to you, as one who speaks whereof she knows.
So you watch the long twilight waltz through, leaning against an upright, while she perches herself on the rail close by. She says she'll go on with you for the one-step, which is placarded immediately after the twilight waltz.

In the first pause of that one-step, Mally says softly: "My, doesn't dancing make you hungry?"
How can you know she has said that to three other men earlier in the evening, with the accumulated success of nothing from the first, an ice-cream cone from the second and a bag of peanut brittle from the third? How can you know that last evening she danced wearily with six men and, making the same tentative suggestion, drew no results whatever save a quick dropping of her by her partners as soon as their respective dances were finished?

How can you know that it is these things that bring the quick light to her eyes as much as your nonchalant admission: "You've said something right there, girlie. Let's cut this and find the eats."

NOW, at the back of the left-hand corridor at Drury's, close to the orchestra, is a little room where for the display of one dance-ticket, you may check as many things as you like for the evening. Mally, it seems, has a raincoat there. So thither you go with her and help her into it. It is a very tattered and frayed old raincoat. It is not at all in keeping with the rest of Mally's clothes. You do not know, as you help her into it, that there is a big pocket sewed inside it—a huge pocket, a colossal pocket. Nor do you realize why Mally should want to spoil the picture of herself by putting on that raincoat. That is because you don't know about that inside pocket. You do not know that the flatness or the bulginess of that pocket is the timepiece whereby Mally regulates her stay at Saltmeadow Beach.

You take Mally to the Surfside Cafe. It is not imposing. Its tablecloths would be better for laundering; the odors of fried fish and clam-chowder wage incessant warfare between each other all over the place. Mally orders plainly but substantially. No, she doesn't care for lobster; no, nor the ice-cream, either. She'd like—perhaps some sandwiches—yes, a double order of the sandwiches—and some of the light fruit-cake, and they serve you the nicest orders of little fancy crackers here. The double order of sandwiches is a very generous double order; there is much of the light fruit-cake— a whole bowl of the crackers. You wonder what on earth the girl will do with it all. Mally begins on a cracker, nibbling it daintily. You are requested to look at a queer couple at a table near the door. You find you have to turn about to see them. You do not look at them for any such amazing period of time; but when you turn back, to your amazement the sandwiches are gone to the last crumb. A moment later the couple is again doing something you should not miss. When you turn about, the light fruit-cake has disappeared. In the meantime, too, the crackers have vanished.

"I was so, so hungry," mumbles Mally, noting the direction of your rather startled gaze.
"Well, don't go hungry," you urge cordially. "Something else?"

And Mally says she'd like two more sandwiches, which same you duly order for her. Only this time you are bound to see how she eats them. You're more than curious; you're mystified. So, despite other queer doings of the couple by the door, you keep an eye on Mally and the sandwiches, or if you turn in your chair, you turn only halfway round, watching her out of the tail of your eye. You see Mally eat half a sandwich quite normally. She doesn't bolt it nor swallow it at a single gulp. But she only eats half the first sandwich. She sighs and begins to button the raincoat.

"I thought I was lots hungrier than I really was when I had you order those last sandwiches," she says apologetically.

So, having finished your own lobster Newburg,—at least they said that was what the sticky mess was,—you pay the checks and leave; but at the door Mally finds she has dropped a side-comb. Nor
will she accept your gallant coffers to return yourself for it. She slips back with a quick darting movement that brings her back to you before you can scarcely stir from your tracks. She has bent quickly over the table. Through the window, you see the last sandwiches you have ordered are gone from their thick plate.

Mally says it is late and she must go home. She lets you ride back on the car with her. You do not know it is because she hasn't the carfare and the four-mile walk seems endless to- her tired feet.
Neither do you know how bungling is that inner pocket when one is walking, nor how badly the things in it get broken up if there is any great distance to go. In fact, you do not even know there is a pocket, but you guess at its existence when, as you are helping Mally from the car, she stumbles sleepily, and two little sweet crackers— the sort of sweet crackers that are served in bowls at the Surfside Cafe— drop at your feet. Mally sees them too, but her head goes back and she pretends she hasn't noticed them.

"Good-night," she says, "and thanks for a nice evening!"
"I'd like to see you all the way home —to your door," you are suggesting, when:
"Good-night!" she says again, and is quickly gone.

Then, soothing your conscience with the commission I have given you and the report I have asked, you do a very underhanded thing. Quietly, keeping to the shadows, you follow Mally in her retreat. You follow along Main Street to Green and down Green to River. You see Mally disappear in the doorway of the old barracks. A moment later a light leaps up in a second-story window. You creep into the house and up a dark stairway. You pause at a door under which a little stream of light filters out into the darkness. You hear voices, childish voices, asking eager questions.

"Yes," you hear Mally's voice. "Mally brought you something to-night. Aren't those great little crackers! Yes, you can have some right now, and a sandwich between you. We'll keep the rest for to-morrow."

Then you hear a door across the hall closing softly. Having heard of Mrs. Costello from me, you presume it is her voice that comes to your ears.

"She's jest got back, Nora—jest come in. The black shame av it, and thim two little kiddies knowin' it's long after midnight whin she gets here! 'Tis the authorities oughter be spoke to about it, and thim two wee wans took away from the inflooence av the loikes av her."

BUT you hear no more of Mrs. Costello's complaint, for, with your ear to the keyhole of that door, you are listening to Mally's voice again. "Yes, dearie, Mally has to work hard for it—awful hard," the tired, droning voice was saying. "But by and by in the fall there'll be work back at the shop, and Mally can be here with you nights again. Until then, dearie, until then—"

To your straining ears the voice suddenly ceases. There follows at once the sound of deep breathing.
"Sh-h, Thane! Sh-h!" a hoarse, childish whisper admonishes. "Don't make so much noise with that cracker. Mally's went to sleep right there at the table. Don't wake her!"

At this juncture, if you're the gentleman I take you to be, you'll take off your hat—take it off to Mally Creigh—and go tiptoeing down the stairs. And you'll be a strange sort of an individual if you don't go with a lump in your throat. 

And again, if you're the sort of chap I think you are, you'll be telling yourself that you agree with Mrs. Costello that the authorities should be "spoke to" about this little matter—only you and Mrs. Costello wont agree at all as to whom the proper authorities are.

Also you'll tell yourself some one better speak to them quickly, before Mrs. Costello rushes in where angels fear to tread and has the two children taken away from Mally.

Mrs. Costello might well do something of the sort. There is no telling. Life is full of just such quaint little pranks.

(John Barton Oxford, The Black Shame of It, The Green Book Magazine, Vol. 14, October 1915, p. 731-736)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Twilight Waltzes

I recently came across a mention of "twilight waltzes" and wondered what that meant. A twilight waltz or moonlight waltz is a a dance where the main lights are turned off and colored lights are used for decoration. When I started looking for mentions, I learned about a whole new world of public dances. I don't think you will find a twilight waltz being danced in a private party, or a high society function. They are seen at public balls sponsored by working unions and social clubs and also at public dances frequented by young working people. Twilight waltzes seem to have been popular from 1909 to the 1920s. The new technology of electrical lights contributes to the custom, since you can now turn the lights out and, more importantly, back on with the flick of a switch. Think of how long it would take to re-light candles or gas lamps. Some of the first mentions of this custom are in connection with professional associations of electrical engineers and train conductors, occupations experienced with electric lights.

Duluth, Minn.- On New Year's eve we gave a most enjoyable ball at which about 400 people attended. Supper was served at the several cafes of the Spaulding hotel and everybody seemed to be enjoying the time of their life. The most interesting feature of the evening was the twilight waltz, which was danced at midnight. The electric lights were all turned off but an electric headlight at the west end of the ballroom and an electric sign at the east end with O. R. C. in green, red and white lights. Three railroads were kind enough to give us special trains to take the out of town people home.
(The Railway Conductor vol. 26, 1909. p. 339.)

The Crushers Of Dunbar,
Washington, D.C. To our patrons and lovers of frolique, greetings:

No doubt you have been wondering what ''The Crushers" would have this Xmas season and when? Having secured the confidence of Washington's elite les danseurs and having justified this confidence by dansantes wholesome in character and worthy of select patronage, we feel certain that the demand for subscriptions will far excel that of last year. Therefore Dec. 20, 6 p. m. will be the last day to receive subscriptions. Our management will spare no pains to afford the greatest enjoyment, attended with the most exquisite music. Xmas night will eclipse Dec. 26 of last year. Noise makers, clever entertainers, calcium lights, moonlight waltzes, and confetti will intersperse the pleasant evening. "Doc." Perry's full orchestra will furnish the lyrics.

This unique formal frolique will be held among the palms and evergreen at Dunbar High School, Xmas. Dec. 25, 1919, starting promptly at 8.00 p. m. At 11.00 p. m. intermission and refreshments will be served, during which time Miss Constantia Wharton and Mr. Louis Murray, of Baltimore, will entertain, after which the cotillion and favors will be distributed. We sincerely solicit the individual cooperation of elite Washington. Admission can only be secured by cards, which will be mailed to you upon request no later than Dec. 20.

Congested Xmas mail necessitates an early reply.

Time: December 25th, Xmas evening. Place: Dunbar High School. Admission: $1.50 per couple; lady 75c, gents $1.00.
(Public-school System of the District of Columbia: Hearings Before the Select Committee of the United States Senate, 1920, p. 1131)

Drury's is the most popular dancing place at Saltmeadow. Its orchestra blares forth above the surrounding din. Its big electric sign twinkles on the peak of the roof, now red, now green, now white. It is a big, square, open place with a corridor for spectators running all about it. Its floor glistens with wax hastily administered after every fourth dance by bustling, shirt-sleeved gentlemen with long-handled contrivances, looking like overgrown mops.Tickets, purchased in advance, of course, are a nickel apiece—six for a quarter. You mount the steps, invest two bits and look about for Mally Creigh.

A twilight waltz is on as you pass down the open corridor on one side. Twilight waltzes are very popular at Drury's, so the floor is crowded. They used to be moonlight waltzes a few seasons ago. They were danced with all the lights out, save only a feeble glow in the little raised niche where the orchestra perspired at its labors. A great and beneficent State, regardful of the welfare and morals of its citizens, passed a law against moonlight waltzes or any other dances in a darkened public hall. The lights should not be extinguished during any dance, said this carefully framed law. Drury got round it by calling his waltzes twilight instead of moonlight and putting dimmers on his lights—very, very dim dimmers. None of his lights were out, oh no, indeed; but you had to look very carefully to see them—or anything else— during the progress of a twilight waltz.

There is no use looking for Mally Creigh in that feeble light. You couldn't distinguish your closest friend's features three feet away. So you lean against an upright and watch dim shapes flit past in the gloom, and listen to the riot of applause every time the orchestra stops until it has given the patrons four encores. Drury can afford encores with the dancing floor packed as it is. It is he who signals the orchestra from his lookout well up toward the roof-peak, with a little red light.

But at last the lights flash up to their full glow. The orchestra puts down its instruments with an air at once of finality and relief, and mops perspiring faces. The dancers begin reluctantly to jam through the exits into the corridor and to fish out fresh tickets. It being a fourth dance, the shirt-sleeved gentlemen with the overgrown mops fall desperately to work upon the floor, which takes on an alluring glisten in their train. Peanuts crackle; cigarettes everywhere send up their reek. The orchestra leader hangs up the printed placard, "Two-step," for the coming dance, and Drury's is ready for the next terpsichorean orgy. (John Barton Oxford, The Black Shame of It, The Green Book Magazine, Vol. 14, October 1915, p. 733)

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A "Crush"

Gentleman's Magazine 1856 You can imagine our bachelor in the evening dress on the right, and in the comfy dressing gown in the middle.

Here is an account from a set-in-his-ways, stout, old bachelor from America. The things that catch my eye are the men's changing room (back-room, second story), the dance cards (pieces of gilt-edged paste-board), the exciting new dance which is danced side to side and backwards and forwards (Polka-Redowa), and the march into supper (to the sound of martial music).

'There is one thing in this fashion-mad age that I detest worse than any other. It is a dancing-party, or 'crush,' as it is termed. How I was ever tempted to attend one, is my constant wonderment. I thought, when I received a card of invitation from my old friends, the Smiths, stating that they would be happy to see me on a certain evening, and heard privately that the young ladies were to make their first appearance in society on that occasion, or 'coming out,' as it is called, that it was to be a very select and quiet affair. 

Imagine my surprise, when, on getting within two squares of the house, and hearing a band of music in full blast, I said to a young friend who was also going to the 'crush,' 'They must be serenading some politician, by the noise,' and heard him reply:
"Oh! no! They are just commencing a polka-redowa.'
'With that he quickened his pace, dragging me along, and we soon reached the 'brown-stone mansion,' our destination. Every window was a blaze of light. When the door was thrown open, and we entered the hall, a babel of sounds struck my ear, such as it had never heard before. After ten minutes' unceasing struggle, I gained the stairs, wiped my perspiring brow, and gazed down upon the heaving sea of heads that filled every part of both parlors and hall, in perfect amazement. 

 While I stood thus stupified with the sight and sound, my hat in my hand, an impudent negro rushed down the stairs, shouted in my ear, 'Gentlemen in the back room, second story,' and disappeared. Directly my young friend also passed me saying, as he pointed over his shoulder: 'Back-room, second story.' I concluded to make my way to the 'back-room, second story,' to see what it contained. The door stood open, and I entered. It was filled with young dandies, some brushing their hair, some their boots, and some their clothes; but from what I heard, I should judge their conversation needed the most brushing. In every corner, on every chair, upon the tops of the doors were piled mountains of coats and hats. I took off my overcoat, a new one, tried every eloset-door to find a suitable place to hang it up; found them all locked, and was obliged to deposit it upon one pile of garments, and my hat upon another. 

I then descended to the 'regions below,' the hall; and after numerous unsuccessful efforts, reached the drawing-room door in safety. The deafening music had ceased, but the clatter of tongues was, if any thing, louder than before. Near to where I stood I noticed several young women consulting pieces of gilt-edged paste-board, and heard them whisper among themselves that same strange word, 'Polka-Redowa.' Very soon the music struck up in all its force; couple after couple embraced, and commenced whirling round and round in a very strange manner. I made up my mind to watch the damsels who had been whispering together, and see how they would act under the circumstances. As soon as a man approached and looked at one of them, out she stepped, he passed his right arm around her waist, took her right hand in his left, but said not a word: she leaned her head languidly upon his shoulder; both then commenced moving their feet rapidly, and away they spun, round and round like the rest, now to the right, now to the left, now backward now forward, bumping and bouncing against the other couples in the crowd. I caught a glimpse of my hostesses once in a while; but as for getting near enough to speak with them, it was quite out of the question. 

After several hours of this whirling, supper was announced; and into the supper-room the whole company marched, two by two, to the sound of martial music. Then commenced one of the greatest battles for eatables I ever saw or ever heard of. With the pushing, hauling, crowding and grabbing, the refreshments soon disappeared—the greater portion upon the floor; my clothes were completely ruined by the stewed oysters, ice-cream, jelly and champagne that was spilled upon them.

'I beat a retreat from that place in double-quick time, and was soon comfortably seated in my own chamber; a segar in my mouth, and slippers upon my feet, vowing 'never, positively never,' to be caught at such an affair again.'

(The Knickerbocker: Or, New-York Monthly Magazine, Volume 55, 1860, p. 336-337.)