Friends, I often wonder what Emmett would think if he could step through a time-door and see some of the entertainment options available nowadays. I’d think he’d be shocked at how relaxed our standards of propriety are in some areas, compared to what was considered ‘shocking’ in pre-World War I days.
Back in Emmett’s day, things were changing rapidly: Just think about the innovations he witnessed in technology, transportation, education. People were adjusting to these changes; many of which had great potential for societal improvement.
The Pensacola public library, for instance, had started recording children’s books and playing them on Victrolas for children’s story times around 1913! Also, people were thinking about the impact of movies on society, and not just as a form of entertainment.
The Pensacola Journal mentioned in one editorial (July, 1915) that although films seemed crudely made, they would improve in time, and therefore, could serve the public in education, and not just as entertainment!
But change was worrisome for a lot of people, and this was more than just women shortening their skirts above their ankles (as it happened in 1915).
People saw the advances in technology, transportation, education, suffrage, and so forth, as threatening what was considered ‘proper’ behavior. Progress meant leaving old ways of doing things — including the long-held Victorian standard of behavior, they reasoned — behind. If behavior standards were lowered, all hell could break loose in society.
For example, one of the shocking societal developments during Emmett’s time were the ‘animal dances.’ Mostly, this dance craze reflected the growing urban and African American influence on music, specifically ragtime. (You can read a little history about the pre-World War I dance craze here.)
Ragtime and some of the ‘animal dances’, like the Fox Trot, would eventually gain popularity, but in small, Southern towns like Pensacola back in the 1910s, the animal dances were considered outrageous, and many places (country clubs, dance halls) banned them outright.
We may think it amusing, 100 years later, but the ‘Turkey Trot’, the ‘Bunny Hug,’ the “Duck Waddle,” the “Grizzly Bear,” the “Squirrel” and other similar dance steps involved a lot more body contact, and that was frowned upon by ‘nice’ society back in the day.
By the way, when I say ‘body contact,’ keep in mind that the men and women still wore gloves during the dances, so you had two layers of fabric between partners’ hands, as well as a lot more clothing in between the dancers than what is usually worn today.
According to my sources, it was apparent that Emmett could dance, and he was invited to many high society cotillions and country club dances when he lived in Pensacola. I don’t believe he did any of the ‘animal dances’, as they were not allowed by the chaperons at these high society events.
Emmett was also described as a tall, dignified man who had a quiet, mature demeanor. Also, the women who attended these dances had a social standing to maintain; they attended these society events mostly to land a husband. Any shocking dance steps would get them removed from the society dance — and from other future high society events — by the chaperons.
Therefore, I can’t really see Emmett doing the “Kangaroo Hop” or the “Grizzly Bear.” I think the animal dances of Emmett’s time were the equivalent of today’s ‘twerking.’
I can only imagine what Emmett would think if he stepped through that time door and observed current dance styles. He might like Gagnam Style, though; particularly the NASA parody version.
Categories: Florida History
Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
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