History of Dances

International Style Jive

This dance originated with the Negroes in the South East of U.S.A., where it had an affinity with the war dances of the Seminole Indians in Florida. One reference suggests that the Negroes copied it from the Indians (Benton, 1963, 4/17). Another suggests that the Negroes brought the dance from Africa, and the Indians copied it (Evans, 1975, 41). The latter is more likely, as the word "Jive" is probably derived from "Jev" meaning "to talk disparagingly" in the West African Wolof language (Sadie, 1980, 9/652). The word "Jive" also has a similar meaning in Negro slang : "misleading talk, exaggerations" (Wentworth, 1975, 293), although this could have been derived from a modification of the English word "jibe" (Burchfield, 1976,426). The word has several other slang meanings : "gaudy merchandise", "marijuana", and "sexual intercourse". It is unclear whether any of these meanings predated the use of the term for the dance, and hence which is a metaphor for which (Wentworth, 1975, 293).

In the 1880's, the dance was performed competitively amongst the Negroes in the South, and the prize was frequently a cake, so the dance became known as the Cake Walk (Compton, 1963, 4/17). It often consisted of two parts performed alternately : a solemn procession of couples, and an energetic display dance, all done in finest clothes. The associated music became known as Ragtime, possibly because the participants dressed up in their best "rags" or clothes, or possibly because the music was syncopated and "ragged" (Buckman, 1978, 160). The music and dances subsequently became popular amongst the Negroes in Chicago and New York (Javana, 1984, 34).

This exuberant dancing and music amongst the Negroes contrasted with the limited and dour dancing of the upper white classes of the U.S.A. and U.K. in the wake of Prince Albert's death in 1861 (Rust, 1969, 78). With the death of Queen Victoria in 1901, society perhaps felt more free to engage in more and energetic dancing, and a series of simple dances based on those of the Negroes become popular in white society e.g.: the Yankee Tangle, the Texas Rag, the Fanny Bump, the Funky Butt, the Squat, the Itch, the Grind and the Mooche (Buckman, 1978, 167). Many had animal names, betraying perhaps a rural and pantomimic origin : Lame Duck, Horse Trot, Grizzly Bear, Crab Step, Eagle Rock, Buzzard Lope, Turkey Trot, Kangaroo Dip, Fishwalk and Bunny Hug. The current Jive still has a Bunny Hug as one of the standard steps. The dances were all done to Ragtime music, with stress on beats 2 and 4, and syncopated rhythms. They all used the same elements: couples doing a walk, rock, swoop, bounce or sway. The closed position was considered by many to be indecent, and sometimes the lady wore "bumpers" to preclude body contact (Rust, 1969,83).

An interesting change occured around 1910, when the individual dances were brought together, and the dancers encouraged to do these in an arbitrary order. It made every male dancer into an instant choreographer. The change was described as a change of interest from steps to rhythm (Rust, 1969, 84). It coincided with the publication of Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in 1910, which rapidly became a worldwide hit.

As Ragtime evolved into Swing through the 1920's, new dances became popular. The Foxtrot was invented by Harry Fox for a stage show in New York in 1913 (Compton, 1963, 4/17). The Charleston was said to have originated in the Cape Verde Islands (Raffe, 1964, 60). It evolved into a round dance done by Negro dock workers in the port of Charleston (Rust, 1969, 89), and became popular in white society after inclusion in the stage show "Running Wild" in 1923 by the Ziegfield Follies, which toured U.S.A. (Rust, 1969, 89). It subsequently became so popular worldwide that many sedate ballrooms put up notices saying simply "PCQ" , standing for "Please Charleston Quietly" (Rust, 1969, 89).