According to the biographers (Smith and Guttridge) of the great jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden there was a spontaneous revulsion against dancing to the new hot jazz in the 20s. Similar reactions of course appeared with the advent of rock and roll.The latter is easily documented, but the jazz age references caught me flat footed.
One of the leaders apparently was a man named J. Louis Guyon, the owner of the biggest dance hall in Chicago. He was shocked as he surveyed the dance floor and watched young people in close embrace with “limbs intertwined and torsos in close contact.”
Mr. Guyon went on. “Add to this position the wriggling movements and and the sensual stimulation of the abominable jazz orchestra with its voodoo-born minors and its direct appeal to the sensory centres, and if you believe that youth is the same after the experience as before, the God help your child.”
Dance teachers were similarly incensed.
Fenton T. Bolt, director of dance reform of the National Association of Dancing Masters opined that “The jazz is too often followed by the joy ride. The lower nature is stirred up as a prelude to unchaperoned adventure.”
Mr Bott went so far as to release a book with approved dancing positions..some cities even hired police to supervise dances—surely a precursor to the Catholic nuns who patrolled balconies with warning bells when swains got too close to their female partners.There was a concerted effort to dampen ardor and squelch the influence of “vulgar music.” My friend Carmen Bush told me of an incident here in Toronto in 1927 when the great Duke Ellington came to the old Pantages Theatre on Yonge street near Dundas. Carmen had skipped school at Del Bond and sat through several sets of the Duke .During one performance two ladies bolted with a loud exclamation condemning this “jungle music.”
In Philadelphia the city hired one Marguerite Walz to instruct 75 policemen to prevent “abdominal contact”, in particular the “Washington Johnny, “in which the legs are spread apart.”
Maybe British novelist had it right when he described rock and roll dancing as “a navel engagement without semen.”
Or maybe the Baptists did when they warned that sex might lead to rock and roll dancing.
Or maybe the gnostics and Augustine spooked us with warnings about the body.
The incarnation sure is messy.