|After 1918 the privations of wartime (WW 1) caused a strong need
for amusement in Germany. This was mainly expressed by an increasing enthusiasm
for dancing. The American jazz dances particularly enjoyed great popularity,
they corresponded to the social changes of that time in a special way.
Strict boundaries between men and women were lifted, since these dances
didn't ask for specific or hierarchical positions of the sexes. Whoever
took over the leadership, had to prove on the dance floor first at all.
The Foxtrot came from America to Europe in 1918. He stood out due to nimble
leg movements which got close to the real fox trot. Deep knee-bends, straddles
and jumps with legs were thrown high into the air, were included just like
a stopping in the middle of the most beautiful swing (breaks). There weren't
specified step sequences. The couples tried with enthusiasm to surpass
themselves in originality in which the strict pair binding was also given
up from time to time. The general dancing teacher association (German ADTV,
founded 1922)tried to get the foxtrot finally into today's "parquet flooring
sneak" by the introduction of uniform regulations.
Ich hab' das Fräulein Helen baden seh'n
1920 the Shimmy from America succeeded the Foxtrot in Germany. As
a jazz dance (generic term for "afro-American movement culture") this dance
style was based on powerful vibrations of the body without moving. Usually
the pelvis was shaken, sometimes only the hips or the buttocks. The short
lady's dress whith its loose threads showed the rhythmic shaking very clearly.
The couple position was practically resolved. The word Shimmy is of African
origin and means in the slang of blacks strong excitement and sexual intercourse.
Because of its provocative eroticism particularly the youth saw a possibility
to an rebellious behaviour against the prudery of the middle classes. Unlike
all western neighboring countries the Shimmy dominated Germany for half
Fräulein, would you like to dance Schimmy? (translated from German)
(1921 text J. Brammer/A. Grünwald, music: E. Kálmán)
Fräulein, would you like to dance Schimmy?
Schimmy, Schimmy, is the whole point of everything!
The savages did it in the past once.
Now it belongs to the good breeding.
In the past, it was schocking,
now it's part of the good tone.
Schimmy, Schimmy is the great fashion, Schimmy is the sensation.
I like to shimmy like my sister Kate
Originally, the Charleston is a jazz melody from the Broadway-Negromusical
"Running Wild" which went around the world and triggered also in Germany
an avalanche in 1923 . By
skillful marketing the dance itself and disk sale were set mutually in
movement. A general choreography of the new popular dance was printed on
many disk covers. A dance description of 1925 says:
"The torso trembles and, to this the movements of the hips, leg
and buttocks correspond. The hands are also active, they touch all parts
of the body as if in ecstasy. The alternate X- and O-legs, knees turned
to the outside and inside. The dancer can bend his back or even take on
a seated position."
Because of up to 148 beats per minute high speed of the movements
was necessary (generally there are 80-78 beats per minute). With the rowing
arm and leg movements the dancers looked like runners. The ability for
the isolated movement of single parts of the body was a necessary condition
for this dance. This goes back to the African sources of the Charleston
as a basic concept of all black dances. With the beginning of the world-wide
economic crisis in 1929 the majority couldn't afford the evening pleasures
any more, and therefore the dance lost its meaning.
1926 a further "dance on the spot" followed, with intensive forward
and backward movings of the pelvis which awarded the name Black Bottom.
In this dance the middle of the body (burdened with sexuality) was
shown shamelessly on the dance floor. The predecessors of the hot bum-dance
were called Tommy (slang for abdomen) and Ballin' The Jack (slang for love
act). The Black Bottom took the unambiguous symbolism for the bum, in which
bang this together, the "bump" was the highlight. The collision seemed
too shocking for white bums. The dance disappeared very fast therefore
from German dance floors.
NS and dancing
With the beginning of the world-wide economic crisis the music fashion
in Germany changed. Instead of the hot jazz music pop-songs about love
sorrow and "Old-Heidelberg" nostalgia prevailed now. The rediscovery of
sentimental dances like waltz and tango corresponded to this wrong idyll.
The society dance was on top again. Coming from England obligatory movement
regulations were fixed for these "standard dances" which were determined
by strict order. This appealed to the national socialist movement opinion. The
national socialists first tried to replace the generally foreign ballroom
dances by new German folk dances. They could fall back upon the old dances
only within limits, since they existed within narrow regional boundaries,
and for the taste of the Nazis they were wanton and frivolous. To guarantee
cultivation and order, the new folk dances made a drilling field out of
the dance floor. Because of a lack of demand the pseudo national new creations
ordained by the state didn't gain acceptance. The society dances therefore
were fallen back upon again in which these were robbed at her execution
of any sensuality. The trunk had to remain broom stiff. The direction of
looking was always straight over the shoulder of the partner. The man led,
the woman had to follow.
swing fever from America reached Germany in the middle of the thirties
against all efforts of the national socialists. It reached its climax in
1936 during the Olympic Games when international orchestras were allowed
to play in Berlin swing music since the Nazis wanted to appear liberal-minded.
The swing dance was a new variant of the jazz dances of the twenties
and corresponded to the popular American dance "Lindy Hop", created in
Harlem in 1927 (an allusion to the century flight of Lindbergh). It was
danced in pairs like the foxtrot and required a loose movement of all limbs
and more or less improvisations. The
Lindy Hop contained acrobatic figures at which the partners threw each
other over the head and around the hips. These jumps in the air first apeared
in Germany after the war. Although, the swing dance was ranked as an unwanted
"foreign culture disgrace", it showed clear parallels with alpine folk
dances (e.g. the "Schuhplattler") : open partner-bearing, lift-ups and
turns under the arm of the partner. Particularly teenagers favored swing
music and swing dancing, because it put a completely different, more attractive
awareness of life (the "american way of life") against the HJ unity drill.
Therefore the danced zest for life was seen as a dangerous contradiction
against propagated cultivation and order. That's way the Swing-Youth
was fought more strictly after the outbreak of the war.
(This non-authentic (!) signpost was the resourceful idea of a record
company in the mid 70's for a disk cover. There was no general ban given
by the Reichskulturkammer (empire culture chamber). Before the war only
occasionally local swing dance bani were given.)
In the course of the war there were temporary dance bani for all
dances and again till it came to the definite attitude of the official
pleasure business in 1944. Dancing was restricted to the little private
frame. After the war the swing dance celebrated a renewed triumphal march
as the boogie-woogie brought by the American GI's in Western Germany.
Je suis Swing
It don't mean a thing
(if it ain't got that swing)
Let's do the
|This dance was particularly popular with the youth in the thirties
in America. His characteristics were small, fast steps and a narrow posture.
He was therefore suitable for fast swing music and crowded dance floors.
(Click the left picture for dance instructions).
From the 20s to the 50s the tap-dancing enjoyed great popularity
by dancers and the audience. It had its highlight during the thirties.
At this dance the rhythm became his accent by a fast change of heels and
tops. Well-known American tap-dancers were Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Eleonor
Powell, the Nicholas Brothers and the child-star Shirley Temple. The German
counterparts in film and cabaret are Marika Rökk, Evelyn Künneke
and the Höpfner Twins. They didn't reach the elegance of the Americans,
though however, they contributed decisively to the popularity of this dance
As usual in the national socialism the emergence story in the book
"tap-dance dance in the alone lesson" of 1940 was presented in a "racially
"And if it (the tap-dance) has conquered himself the world from North
America, he is nevertheless neither a purely American thing still it has
to do something with niggers. The tap-dance rather has his origin in old
nordic fisherman dances in which the typical "taps" exists til today. Well,
his pre-ancestors are rootedly in the folk dance, so also in the Bavarian
Schuhplattler ... "