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)

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