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The Forbidden Ragging Dances

I am compiling a list of "forbidden" dances of the Ragtime Era (roughly 1890-1920). The list below comes entirely from primary sources: lists of dances named in actual city statutes, lists of dances "Not allowed in this respectable establishment" and in one case, dances we know we shouldn't be doing, but we're doing them anyway - come on down.

Respectable society was shocked and appalled by the dances of the young (as they generally are) and provided us with a wonderful set of lists of exactly what they disapproved of, usually lumping them together under the term "Ragging dances". Some of these are well documented for those who want to dance them today. Others are a bit more perplexing, and may have been a brief fad in a particular place, but never quite caught on. Generally they are variations, novelty steps or moves, on a basic One-Step or Two-Step pattern.

Since there was no "National Society for the Clarification of Ragtime" one can generally not be entirely sure what, for example, was meant by "Hoochy-Mootchy". I suspect that many of these found their way onto a forbidden list when some officious official went to a dance hall, saw something that offended him and asked the first person he met "What's that called". So, what we have is what some random kid happened to think some dance move was called in a particular dance hall at a particular moment in time. In reality, one variation may go under multiple names, and one name may be applied to multiple different variations. It was a merry mess back then at the moment of creation.

I suspect that the more likely scenario is that they didn't ask anyone and perhaps had little or no evidence that kids were dancing these particular dances in their town. They just found someone else's "Banned Dances" list in a newspaper and used it for their own, perhaps adding a few that they overheard their kids mentioning - but in all cases have very little sense of what any of them actually were. These lists are an interesting artifact, but can't really be taken as definitive evidence of the presence of a particular dance in a particular place at a particular moment in time.

The first set are the dances I found mentioned repeatedly, sometimes with fines and jail time involved. The Tango is an interesting case. It started out as a shocking dance and a serious moral hazard, but quickly became respectable as it was embraced by high society, so that by the early 20s, it was being looked on nostalgically as a pleasant dance kids should be doing instead of that evil Jazz (the bogyman that took over the job of corrupting youth from Ragtime around 1920). The most egregious offender seems to have been the Turkey Trot, with it being rumored that Woodrow Wilson canceled his inaugural ball out of fear of Turkey Trots causing a national scandal (he denied it, but canceled the ball anyway). There was even a bit of national debate, with defenders of the Turkey Trot arguing that it could be danced in a respectable manner, but unfortunately frequently wasn't.

The bottom section is dances called out in sheet music of the time that may, or may not have actually been "a thing".

Finally, there's a video with film clips from the time, to give you a sense of what was going on.

At the very bottom of this, I have provided a list of my sources. If you have any additional primary sources I could use to expand the list, please let me know.

The Top Offenders (repeated mentions)

Turkey Trot
Bunny Hug
Grizzly Bear
Texas Tommy

More Obscure Dances

Angle Worm Wiggle
Briney Deep
Camel Hump
The Canter
Chicken Flip
Chicken Dance
Corkscrew Twirl
Formation Glide
Frisco Walk
Gaby Glide
Heads Together
Hook-Worm Wiggle
Horse Trot
Hyppo Dip
Jelly Wiggle
The Shiver
Smyrna Glide
Sun Fish Squirm
Trolly Twirl
Yiddisher Gavotte

Sheet Music Inventions

Alabama Slide
Mississippi Dippy-Dip
Aeroplane Glide

A note on the "Camel Walk": I've found mentions of it being forbidden in the '20s, and it was around in the teens, but I am still looking for a primary source from the teens banning or criminalizing it.

A bit of what Ragtime dancing looked like - I can pick out lots of "Bunny Hug" and (look for the kicking steps) "Turkey Trot".

Sacramento City Ordinance 1912
Santa Cruz City Ordinance 1912
Warrenton City Ordinance 1914
Western Pennsylvania Canoe association - 1913 as reported by the Pittsburgh Daily Post and quoted in an NPR article
Mammoth Hotel advertisement touting a program exclusively of scandalous dances "Let Joy be Unrefined" - 1913
New York Times: "SOCIAL WORKERS SEE REAL 'TURKEY TROTS': Shudder at "The Shiver," Gasp at "The Bunny Hug," and Then Discuss Reforms. NO VERDICT IS RENDERED Welfare Committee Hesitates to Condemn the Dance When Very Properly Done -- Actors Show All Forms. SOCIAL WORKERS SEE REAL 'TURKEY TROTS'" January 1912
Los Angeles Times: "Students may dance". 18 April 1916
"THE SAILOR'S HORN PIPE.: Jackies of the Navy Will Have to Confine Themselves to It and Quit "Trotting."" Los Angeles Times 19 Sept 1913
"International Dancing Masters Declare Wriggly Effects Vulgar and Ungraceful." Los Angeles Times, 5 Sept 1913