"Cocktail Dancing" - The Social Dances of the Jazz Age - Winnetka

06/25/2017 6:30 pm

More infoOur more or less monthly Sunday evening dance program returns to St. Martin in the Fields in Winnetka.

The theme this time will be dancing in Europe in the Jazz Age: Paris, Berlin, Moscow and beyond.

Foxtrots, Tangos, Waltzes and more in the free and easy "Cocktail" style.

This is a beginner friendly program. No partner required, and we encourage you to change partners often.

You are encouraged, but in no way required, to wear "vintage" style clothing of the '20s & '30s.

We also welcome contributions of light snacks and beverages (soft drinks, wine, beer etc.)

This is a friendly, unstructured evening. Walter Nelson will show some old movies to get a sense of how people danced, give a few pointers on how to do the dances, and then we'll dance.

The cost is $10 to cover the cost of the hall.

Here's the Facebook Event Page. RSVP to let folks know you are coming.

Jazz Age Social Dancing ("The Modern Dances")

ImageIn the Jazz Age, nearly everyone danced, so they did dances almost anyone could do.

Generally, when people think about the dances of the Jazz Age (the 1920s & 30s), they bring to mind exuberant youth dances like the Charleston or Lindy Hop, or the theatrical dances of Fred and Ginger.

What Fred & Ginger did was theater and spectacle, and was never intended to be an accurate representation of how ordinary folks danced. Countless examples of normal, workaday social dancing can be seen in movies of the period but not being done by exhibition dancers like Fred and Ginger. If you want to see how it was really done, look at the folks in the background or characters who are dancing to move the story along rather than to show off their skills.

The most common misconception however is our tendency to assume that everyone, regardless of age, social status, ethnicity or geography was dancing the latest fad youth dance of the moment: be it the Charleston, the Black Bottom, Collegiate Shag or Lindy Hop. Given the complexity and physical demands of these dances, this defies simple logic; and any review of the films of the time will show that these youth dances had a definite place, but they were danced by a minority of the total dancing population - and even those who danced them did not limit themselves to those dances (unlike many current dancers).

A Collection of Vintage Adult Book Cover Art

This particular posting will be something of a departure for me, though I suppose it does have some connection to "Social History".

In the process of dealing with the estate of a deceased relative, I came upon several stashes of "vintage" adult literature - perhaps 400 volumes in total. Much is cheaply produced and, well, just porn; but about half of it dates from the late '50s through the late '60s, when "adult" literature often had cover art that ranged from crude but enthusiastic to expertly executed - clearly produced by the same talented artists who were doing cover art for more "respectable" paperback books.

So, here they are, posted to Flickr in no particular order. They are an interesting snapshot of a moment in our history, at the cusp of the "Sexual Revolution", when euphemisms abound and the word "Shame" figures prominently in the cover text of many of them; but many others aren't ashamed at all.

Note: there's one exception to the timeline. The "Dance Hall Girl" actually dates from the mid-'30s. I don't know how that one got into the collection, but there it is.

Since a big part of what I do for a living is digitizing stuff (I'm really fast) and the collection is about to be broken up forever in an estate sale, I decided to capture it while I could in all its infinite strangeness. There are 206 items in the collection.

PS: I also included the scan of the back cover of one of the books, containing a note that apologizes for not being able to use the mail. I suspect that is related to the draconian laws then in effect relating to sending pornography through the mails.

Go to the album

Classic Smut

The Gigolo's Tango

The signature dance of the gigolo, as depicted in a selection of old movies. A nice review of what a polished Tango looked like in the '30s and '40s.

Dancing in a London Dive 1929

Dancing in a London dive from the Anna May Wong film "Piccadilly" from 1929.

It opens with a bunch of women doing a Charleston and then moves to general, lively social dancing to include a scandalous inter-racial dance. I cut the bit where the landlord throws the black man out as it detracted from my general purpose of showing the dances of the time.

Shocking Fashion Trends in 1920 or The Adventures of Minnie Fewclothes

ImageThe fashions we take for granted were, about a century ago, quite shocking to the more traditional sensibilities. Here's an article from the Los Angeles Times, January 4th 1920.

Fashion or Health?
Bareback or Decency?

by Jane Dixon

The question of clothes is really becoming a serious matter.

Or perhaps it is better to say the matter of NO clothes is really becoming serious.

Whichever way you put it—the issue remains the same—it is better to pay the merchant a couple of hundreds for a few extra yards of material and keep in health or to pay the physician a couple of hundreds for few extra treatments to stay in fashion?

“One must make one’s choices” as they would say in dear old Mayfair.

There are any number of women who are frank to confess “they would rather be dead than out of fashion”

Well, it looks now as if they are going to be dead anyhow.

The woman is not extant whose physique can withstand the rigors of the North American climate with nothing between her and a snow storm but a wisp of material and dab or two of trimming.

The lady from the Rue de la Paix was swathed in black satin.

There was not very much to the satin. In fact, there was nothing to it below the knee—nothing except a row of fringe that flopped dismally along the silk sheathed limbs like the water soaked grass wardrobe of a native Hawaiian hula dancer.

Also, the lady wore sans sleeves,. There was a tissue trifle that began at the armpits and stopped abruptly half way to the elbow, as if ashamed of even this small concession to the conventions.

Here endeth the chapter, so far as the frock is concerned.

A word more of silk-sheathed limbs. The sheathing was of an extraordinary web known in the parlance of the trade as “fishnet”. This term is self-explanatory. At a distance of ten feet it would take a trained observer to distinguish anything but the holes in the net.

With this “striking outfit” which might more truthfully be called a “comedy makeup”, went a pair of those funny little snub-nosed slippers we once introduced in Paris and of which the Parisienne has never been able to cure herself. You know the kind I mean—with the ends describing a half circle, the vamp hitting the tops of the toes and the six-inch heels giving the wearer the continued appearance of a toe-dancer who had outlived her art.

The Dancing in the Valley Project

ImageI (Walter Nelson) am undertaking a new project, which is a bit of a departure.

At this moment there is no "vintage dance" in the San Fernando Valley. There's barely any Swing dancing. I will try to do a little bit to remedy that.

The "Dancing in the Valley" project will involve recurring, inexpensive, informal vintage dance gatherings here in my neighborhood.

I understand that much of Southern California regards the Valley as a sort of Siberia - a distant, strange and inaccessible land, so I have, with the generous support of the Episcopal Church of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields and Vicar Gabriel Ferrer (son of Jose Ferrer BTW), set up a program that does not depend on huge numbers to cover the costs.

I have also chosen a time that works for the Church and also competes with very few other programs - Sunday evening 6-9 PM. For Valley residents, it is conveniently close and for those from other areas, you can brave the less-bad-than-most-times Sunday afternoon traffic, dine at one of our inexpensive local establishments, and then partake of free and convenient parking with a low-key, friendly evening of dance and socializing. It then ends in time for folks with jobs to get home and get to bed.

Each event, happening more or less once a month, will have a different theme. The first will focus on dancing in Weimar Berlin in the '20s and '30s. Future ones will mostly be Jazz Age, but I reserve the option to divert into other eras, from the Regency to Victorian to Ragtime, depending on my mood and the level of demand.

The first hour will be instruction, with the following two hours dancing to recorded music with yours truly as the DJ. If we start getting sufficient numbers, we can hire some live music.

Here's a link to the first event: http://www.walternelson.com/dr/berlin-tanzen

I hope to see you soon here, in the San Fernando Valley, my home (cue Bing Crosby).

Building Models of Civil War Ironclads

ImageI have posted this to the web to assist my friend, Steve Lund, who is one of the authors of this detailed guidebook for making working models of Civil War ironclads.

Here's the link to the PDF
http://walternelson.com/ironclads.pdf

The proper title is:
MODELING CIVIL WAR IRONCLAD SHIPS
By
Steven Lund and William Hathaway
Copyright 2007

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