Dances of the Roarin’ Twenties

The 1920s were an era known for its dramatic attitude — wild, carefree, extravagant, and a party all night long. Prohibition couldn’t stop the speakeasies or debauchery, dance halls featured dance marathons lasting days (or weeks!), and the public didn’t want the party to stop. And what’s a party without dancing?

Many dances were popular in the 1920s. Some are still known and beloved today, whereas others have faded into history books. Dancing was the social activity, among all ages and all walks of life. Pre-war dances such as the Waltz and the Tango remained popular, and new dances came into the spotlight, boosted in popularity by Broadway shows and movies (and yes, even a man by the name of Arthur Murray).

The Foxtrot first became popular in the 1920s. Since it had gotten introduced barely prior the war, it wasn’t seen as old-fashioned. But there was a lot of confusion over what exactly the Foxtrot was — many types of music and dancing were marketed as Foxtrot, hoping to ride on its coattails, including a style called the One-Step that remained popular throughout the decade.

Out of this strange Foxtrot divide came a bouncier version, initially called the Toddle. The Toddle in turn became what is known now as the Peabody: even bouncier, and even more popular at dance halls and parties.

The Charleston was another dance craze of the 20s, popularized by the song “The Charleston” by James P. Johnson. It was first used in the Broadway musical Runnin’ Wild, and spread like wildfire to the dance halls across the country.

Dances come and go no matter the era. Some dance fads have real staying power, like Foxtrot and Peabody. Others, like the Turkey Trot, fade out after their time in the spotlight. Some dances evolve into other types, or perhaps some steps live on in other styles. Next time you’re watching Quickstep, look out for some Charleston flavor.

A Bit About The Foxtrot…

The Foxtrot is unquestionably America’s favorite dance. Other dances come and go, but the Foxtrot grows ever more popular. The overwhelming majority of all songs written today are with the Foxtrot rhythm, and it is one of the core dances we teach here at the Arthur Murray Dance Center of Cranford.

Arthur Murray Dance Center of Cranford

Unlike most other dances, the Foxtrot is distinctly and entirely American, which may account for its permanent popularity in this country. It is a dance characterized by flowing movements and freedom of styling—the same kind of dynamic informality which characterizes the American way of life.

The name of the dance supposedly comes from a vaudeville performer named Harry Fox, who introduced it in 1913. During his act he used to select a variety of chorus girls and “trot” with them around the stage. The dance he did came to be known as the “Fox Trot”, nowadays one word: simply the Foxtrot.

The dance as we know it today is far different from the fast, simple trotting step that Mr. Fox introduced, but the name has persisted. As with the Lindy Hop, the origin of the name has been largely forgotten, but the dance remains the favorite of all dancers, young and old alike.

The origin of the Foxtrot itself goes back beyond Harry Fox to the introduction and growth in popularity of ragtime music. This distinctively American form of music, with its different and exciting rhythms, swept the country. With it arose new dances to express the rhythmic urges which sprang up wherever ragtime music was played. The Cake Walk, the Two Step, the Bunny Hug—these and many others were forerunners of the Foxtrot. With the introduction of the Foxtrot and its instantaneous rise to popularity, the other dances were forgotten and the Foxtrot became America’s favorite dance—a position it still holds today and the Arthur Murray Dance Center of Cranford teaches with pride. Feel free to schedule your first lesson with us and learn firsthand the appeal of the Foxtrot!