Sunday, August 23, 2009


I wanted to blog about the kind of hillbilly clog dance I used to see on tape at John K's place, but I couldn't find a good video of it. Hillbilly line dancing is different than country. If you have any Ernest Tubbs tapes watch the line dancers in the background...see how their bodies are completely stiff while their legs scramble in place at a mile a THAT'S authentic hillbilly line, or at least it's the kind I like.

Anyway, thinking about that reminded me of the Irish dance it was derived from, which you can see in the "Riverdance" clip above. I imagine tap dancing began with the Celts.

Here's (above) another hillbilly style. Man, those hillbillies were sharp!

Thinking about line dancing reminded me of a popular line dance of the 1920s called "The Peabody." The couples version is complicated, but the line dance can be learned by anybody in an hour or two. The oldsters above don't seem to have any trouble with it. I like line dances. it's fun to do synchronized choreography.

The Peabody survived through decades of permutations, the last one I'm aware of being "The Madison" (above) in the early sixties. Hmmm....there might be a video problem here. If you're seeing a blank space where the film should be, just double click on the empty space.

It's off-topic, but I can't resist throwing in this version of The Charleston." It would be hard to over-estimate the importance of this dance. Similar dances like the Shimmy and the Cake and the Black Bottom pre-dated it, but they were confined to blacks and small numbers of hip whites. The Charleston was the breakout dance that introduced really large numbers of whites to black dance and black culture.

If you've only seen the inverted knee style of Charleston, then you're in for a treat when you see this video (above). I knew from old photos that the dance had a lot more to offer than the knee step. When it's done right The Charleston is liberating and innovative and feels years ahead of its time.

One last digression: one dance that was almost a complete dead end, was burlesque. The intimate dances you see today all seem to have other roots. It never developed into an art form, though you could argue that Gypsy Rose Lee, Marlena Dietrich and others tried to give it a push in that direction.


Hans Flagon said...

Every year, Ashville NC used to host a folk festival. We Called it the Folkies. It was hosted by the guy who wrote Good Ole Mountain Dew (which, if you search the internet, will mostly just say, Traditional, or try to pin the song onto Grandpa Jones the young whippersnapper who had a hit with it. I think it was written by Bascom Lamar Lunsford the founder of this festival which had been going on since 1928. This was back in the sixties. The festival still goes on. I doubt Bascom does, he was ancient then, with liverspots you could see from the back of the auditorium.

Anyway, they had group line dancing called Clogging, which I think might be what you refer to. They really kicked up the dust stomping the wooden stage.. I find the Irish Riverdance stuff regurgitated and fancied up a bit refined, for the new age celtic audience. Clogging was generally stiff upper body, but not at the cost of mincing up the stomp; it was the maximum force per foot stomp that seemed to matter. They might cross arms, or join hands, or even swing them a bit if it got them a louder clomp with their Mammy Yokum grandmothers Army Boots. It multigenerational, and it was not unusual to see a little girl pee her pants from the excitement, while stomping.

It was usually a group of at least 25 or more, maybe a hundred, lined up in a square array.

Maybe that would lead to some video? I found a site for the festival, which looks web circa 10-15 years ago, and makes the gathering seem much smaller.

Rick Roberts said...

Holy crap ! Young people actually dancing ? That was an amazing verison of The Charleston, thanks so much for posting UE. Such a relief from that MTV Dance Crew bull shit.

Jenny Lerew said...

"one popular dance that was almost a complete dead end, was burlesque. The intimate dances you see today all seem to have other roots. It never developed into an art form"

What the what?!
What do you mean by "dead end"?

Are you comparing couples/partnered dancing to performances such as Sally Rand or others did? If you think the best of the strip isn't an art form you sure were watching the wrong stuff...and Dietrich doing "burlesque"? Are you talking about her character in "The Blue Angel"? She was a singer, really. I don't think by any stretch of the definition she was ever a "dancer" nor should she be considered as any sort of performer who fits the definition of burlesque, if the term has any meaning.
Burlesque was a type of act and a venue for those acts; what Rand and Gypsy Rose Lee and others were doing was stripping, which for some strippers incorporated movement from dance and was a kind of dance(if that was the stripper's style)-but no one went to burlesque clubs to see the "dancing"!

Mary Pickford does a great clog dance in "Heart O' The Hills"--total hill-billy. But for my money here's the best 'clog' dance you will ever see, ANYWHERE:
greatest routine ever

thomas said...

James Cagney's style of dancing in Yankee Doodle Dandy comes from traditional Irish dancing. I think that's how he started in showbiz; dancing for change in Lower East Side N.Y. bars.

Thanks for the Charleston clip - fancy footwork

Jennifer said...

Actually, Uncle Eddie, burly-q is not really dying. It's experiencing a small revival thanks to Dita Von Teese and that lot. There's actually a modern burlesque show going on in Vegas - I think it's called "Peep Show".

Peter Bernard said...

WOW! I have a new hillbilly puppet character and I'm trying to figure out how the heck to get her to dance-- it's a puppet animation, cgi. This is amazing, I'm going to study that one video in particular. Thanks so much, Uncle Eddie! I'm scared coming to your blog lately, it's like you're writing about what I was thinking about. You're an invaluable resource and an international treasure.

Peter Bernard said...

The guy in coveralls in this one is awesome too:

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: The fan dance had no potential for ballroom development, but other burlesque styles did. I just wasn't able to show them without putting up something too steamy for the site.

The Astaire/Powell dance was terrific!

Jennifer: Thanks! I never heard of Von Teese til you mentioned her. I found some interesting pictures, and I'll search YouTube for her.

Peter: Thanks for the hillbilly link! Maybe you could do a puppet with thin, floppy rag doll legs that flail around when you turn a spin a vertical stick. The arms could be still, or be manipulated by a second pupeteer.

Jenny Lerew said...

Eddie, there's a lot of modern retro-inspired burlesque acts out there now(I've probably seen them all, lol), but Dita is far and away the best of them. Spot on and gorgeous, does the "classy strip" thing to perfection-a living doll.
If you've really never heard of her or watched one of her extravaganzas you're in for a treat. She's all over youtube, and has her own site as well.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny, Jennifer: I just watched some Von Teese YouTube videos and the verdict is...well, I'll just say I need more convincing.

Hans: I envy you if you got to see good clogging up close and personal. Riverdance was sometimes too slick, but the best numbers still worked for me.

One of these days I'll draw a post about Michael Flatley.

Peter Bernard said...

Eddie, that's an awesome idea, but I meant cgi 3D in the computer puppets, haha (I think of 3D computer generated "cartoons" as puppet movies like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer). But I can do that-- a fake version in the computer!! Thanks, that's an inspiration! If it works, I'll give you a thank you in the credits, but if it comes out like crap, I'll take the blame myself, haha.

Anonymous said...

I'm not a fan of burlesque but if you're looking for an alternative to Dita Von Teese, Eddie, check out some of Katy Perry. She's a singer-songwriter who's like a younger and hotter version of Dita Von Teese.

Anonymous said...

I think that should of read either "check out Katy Perry" or "check out some of Katy Perry's videos"

Anonymous said...

And that should have read "should have."