The Animal Dance Craze

"The season for skating and jazz has begun,
And frivolous flappers are out for fun,
Seeking the scenes where the arc-lights glare,
Taking a chance in the chill night air."

- Advertisement for Woods' Peppermint Cure, 1922

When one thinks about the early history of ice dancing, the first dances that usually come to find are earliest versions of Valses (waltzes), quadrilles and marches. However, a long forgotten fad that swept both Europe and North America during the second decade twentieth century made its way to the ice for a several winters and people went nuts over it. The music was of course ragtime and its accompanying dance craze? Animal dances.

Mae Hollander and Louis Borod in Ten-Below Tango position

The Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Kangaroo Hop, Monkey Glide, Duck Waddle, Angle Worm Wiggle And Grizzly Bear... All that was missing was the Camel Toe. Oh wait, there was the Camel Walk instead... The general idea of these fun dances was that couples were supposed to imitate the animals the dances were named after with their movements. As you can imagine, hilarity often ensued and many dance clubs actually forbade the dances to be performed within their walls. For some, waddling like a duck or wiggling like a worm was simply too vulgar.

Instead of give up the Grizzly Bear, some translated animal dances to the ice. The October 24, 1915 issue of "The New York Times" reported, "Already several adaptations of modern dances have been made to be executed on skates. The ice waltz, the snowball trot, the frosty hesitation, the ten-below tango and the polar bear hug are some of the ice dances." That same winter, "The Spokesman-Review" reported that "various modifications" of these dances had already been skated on the ice for several winters. These weren't ice dances how we think of them now. They were largely stationary and really wouldn't have required much skating skill beyond being able to stand up and turn around so even the least adept skaters could get their Ten-Below Tango on to the strains of Scott Joplin without too much trouble.

As is the case with most dance crazes, animal dances fell out of favour by the early twenties. However, one of the more sophisticated ones survived and evolved... the Fox-Trot. It was was officially unveiled as a legitimate pattern ice dance by Eva Keats and Erik van der Weyden at a competition in April 1933 organized by the National Skating Association's Departmental Committee For Ice Dance which sought out new dances.

However, skaters were enjoying earlier interpretations of the dance on the ice some time before. Ernest Philip Alphonse Law's 1925 book "Dancing On Ice" mentions a 'Fox-Trot competition' skated to the Bohatsch Ten-Step figure in Manchester in 1924 that was "rather criticized by some authorities on figure-skating." Law himself was admittedly skeptical about the ability to translate the dance to the ice: "The two-step comes easily enough; but to dance exactly the ordinary fox-trot steps on the ice, from the very nature of the surface, is not practicable. Some successful adaptations, nonetheless, have been made to the fascinating rhythm of syncopated music." Erik van der Weyden himself wrote of the dance he and his wife created: "It should be emphasized from the start that the Fox-Trot is a serpentine dance, skateable in rinks of any size or shape. No special placing was ever intended, and it is left to individual dancers to get the best possible interpretation, consistent with strong edges and correct steps." Just as the Ten-Below Tango and Polar Bear Hug fell out of favour, Eva Keats and Erik van der Weyden's original vision for the Fox-Trot has evolved considerably in the decades since it was first officially introduced. It's a reminder of one constant in figure skating history: continuous change.

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