The Bowery Waltz of Vaudeville [Video]

Posted on: December 26th, 2011 at 10:24 am by

This certainly isn’t the Cupid Shuffle, Macarena, or the Twist. Or any other flavor-of-the-week step. No siree-Bob. What we have here is a brief forty-second clip from 1902 showing a popular dance at the time, nicknamed the “Bowery Waltz.”

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The Bowery Waltz, sometimes referred to as the “Tough Dance at McGurk’s,” actually owes its genesis to turn-of-the-century Paris. Its origins trace back to a purported street fight between two men and a woman outside a nightclub in the Montmart section of Paris, leading a local journalist to liken the incident to a “ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle.”

This Bowery iteration of the so-called tough dance was quite popular in the vaudeville scene of the Lower East Side.  The video itself portrays the self-professed “champs” of the Bowery, Kid Foley and Sailor Lil, acting out a drunkenly misogynistic scene of drunken low-lives from the Bowery.

The dance is very physical and rather passionate as the partners pantomime an escalating domestic fight. The spin in the dance is known as the ‘Apache spin,’ (a.k.a. the ‘Texas Tommy’ in Lindy Hop), and is an integral part as is the ‘slow drag.’ The pace starts slow working its way up to a violent frenzy, all the while alternating between a slow drunk dance and a wild domestic blowout, usually culminating with the woman feigning unconsciousness and being carried out. The interpretation is commonly based on one of two motifs: a low class drunken couple or a pimp and his whore.

The Bowery Waltz, however, was first captured on film seven years earlier (1897) thanks to Edison Manufacturing Company.  It’s a much slower version of the dance.


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