Donnerstag, 22. September 2022

Paris and New York before Canaro - Chapter 3: La TangoMania - Part I

by José Manuel Araque 

In late July 1908, almost a year after the landing of La Morocha in France, the Dance Masters of Europe and the United States were invited to a Congress in Berlin sponsored by Kaiser Wilhelm II, to discuss the new dance scene in a World transformed by the Gramophone. “The beautiful traditions are lost, we don‘t know how to dance anymore”, said M. Jules Givre, master choreographer of Paris’ Opera. The head of the Academy of Dancing Masters of Paris, M. Charles Lefort, decried “the decadence of the Art“, when referring to the new dances coming from America, the cakewalk, the maxixe and the Tango. The Congress decided, among other things, to employ French as the lingua franca for choreographic terms. And they chose a small list of dances that had their seal of approval, to be introduced in the upcoming Fall and Winter seasons.

M. Lefort was a sculptor too, and a man of strong opinions, for years he was hostile to Tango. With his wife he ran a Dance and Physical Education studio on Boulevard St. Denis. Lefort spoke of the high days of the Royal French Dances, the pavane, the gavotte. In his telling of the History of Dance, things took a turn for the worse in 1860 with the import of the Polka. For the first time, men were holding women by their waists and, according to Lefort, this “added a certain je-ne-sais-quois to the pleasure of dance, that incited passion”. Lefort believed in Dancing as exercise and therapy, and considered Dancing as much an Art as a Science. He even shared a list of “the correct beats per minute per dance" to make his point.

Researcher Rafael Mandressi posits that Tango's introduction of breaks in the dance ("the rejection of perpetual motion"), was the source of much controversy. A Tango dance is an improvisation, and breaks are used to add figures, color. But in the view of some, breaks led to rubbing. In the September 1909 issue of La Vie Heureuse, a humourous piece about the new dances already highlighted some of the issues. It read:

May your "promenade" be without too marked flexion, you "eights" well paced and calm, you "scissors" executed without ridiculous squirming, and without raising your legs like a pawing horse: measure in everything. And above all, don't have that absorbed look, that tense face, as if you were performing some ritual, and which most dancers love. Don't seem to apply yourself so much that the slightest inattention will cause you to lose your rhythm; do not stubbornly stare at your feet; just watch them without seeming to attach importance to them and, please, talk to your partner.

The magazine highlighted the affectation exhibited by many on the dance floor, and included illustrations of what was right, and what was wrong, with special attention to measure.

To Lefort, the modem dancer “engaged in contortions as fanciful as they were grotesque”. Lefort and the Academy found no fault with the national dances of Western European countries, but only in the new dances from America, with the exception of the Boston waltz, which was very popular. "We shall soon arrive at the bamboula of the nègres, or the scalp dance of the Redskins!", he railed. He also pointed out that the aristocratic class in America danced the pavane and the minuet. Following the Congress, every year the Academy published the list of newly approved dances, with the glaring omissions noted. In 1909, Lefort himself introduced the Aeronette.

In April 1910, the Théâtre Apollo premiered the operetta Rève de Valse, but there was barely any Tango in sight in either the Apollo, or the French Press. The talk of the Dancing Congress in October of that year, was the introduction of dances using animal gestures, like the Turkey Trot. Lefort himself introduced his Chanteclerette, and the Five Step. But many were already dancing Tango in Paris. Jane Marnac danced Tango at the Folies Bergère, Mistinguett and her partner Luis Bayo danced it at the Marigny. Tango was then associated with both the Brazilian, and the Argentine communities, where it was danced in private parties along with the maxixe.

Then suddenly, on January 10, 1911, the newspapers Le Figaro and Gil Blas, and others around France, reported on the arrival of Tango, la danse nouvelle. The news may have been a coordinated stunt by M. Leon Robert, a Dancing Master that had been teaching Tango to Mistinguett. "Professionals don't always dictate fashion; many times they must submit to the will of the public", he concluded. Lefort was blindsided by these news, the Academy's authority was now in question.

M. Robert went on to tell how Tango had been brought to the Parisian salons by "young high-society South-Americans". Since these youth could not teach it, M. Robert and other Dancing Masters had taken to the task of learning it, encoding its rules, and teaching it to others. He called it original and lascivious, but tres comme il faut (very proper). Tango was danced to "slow, langorous music" (langoreux) that resembled the Habanera. M. Robert described the steps:

The position is that of the Boston and does not change throughout the dance. At no time does the lead separates from his follower to move in front of her or around her. The tango consists of seven figures. The first is a "promenade de pas marché”: the lead leans back slightly and the follower is leaning slightly forward. The second includes sliding steps on the right side, then on the left side, with American-style arm movements marking the cadence. More gliding steps, then a walk from right to left, with movement of bodies separated and brought together like a fan that opens and closes; an imitation of the two-step followed by a slightly varied repetition of the first figures, and the dance ends with a slight sway back and forth of the most graceful effect.

A few days later, the young newspaper Excelsior followed up with a vivid pictorial featuring Mistinguett and M. Robert. The Excelsior was owned by Pierre Lafitte, a maverick publisher known for this innovations in graphic publications. Across the Atlantic, the news and the pictures were echoed by The New York Times.

While Paris was living its Belle Époque years, the United States was living the end of its Gilded Age. It was now a first-rank economic power, and its wealthy class looked at Paris for clues about culture and fashion. But there were cautionary tales about this relationship: the previous year, the Café de l'Opera, a venue that tried to bring Parisian-style Cabaret to New York, had become a high-profile failure. The Opera was opulent, it occupied all 8 floors in a small building behind The New York Times tower in Times Square. It had operational problems to be sure, but it was its insistence in a particular dress code that soon became the object of derision.
On March 15, 1911, the Winter Garden Theater opened on 50th street and Broadway. The Shuberts, its owners, wanted to create a music-hall atmosphere emulating Paris. The opening, a massive 4-hour show, included La Belle Paree, a series of vignettes set in the French capital. Yet another take on the Parisian scene was the Follies Bergère, which opened on 46th street in April, and also tried to bring the dinner-plus-show business model to New York.

In Paris, on March 28, the Excelsior announced a Dance Contest that would take place on May 26 at the Théâtre Femina. The Femina was also owned by Lafitte, and was located in the same building as the newspaper on Champs Élysées. The event would include a competition for Tango professionals, and one for amateurs. The other categories were the Boston, the valse-chaloupée (Apache), and the "salon dances". The following weeks, the Excelsior followed up with news about the event, its rules, its prizes, and the people involved. Adults were taking dancing lessons, the whole town was excited. Mistinguett, credited with popularizing the new dance, would be in attendance, of course. Luis Bayo, would be in the competition.

Maurice Mouvet and his partner Leona had performed regularly at the Cafe de Paris since 1908, they made a name for themselves dancing American rhythms, and with their Apache. In August 1910 "Morris and Leona" danced at the Winter Garten in Berlin. They were expected to compete in all 4 categories for professionals at the Femina. In his autobiography Maurice noted that he learned Tango "from some young Argentines in Paris".

A few days before the contest, the painter Franck Elim, famous for his depictions of racehorses, hosted a party in his atelier. Here, one of those Argentines Maurice credited, "M. Lopez, a painter and emeritus composer of tangos", was reported to have danced admirably with Mme. Loulou Christi ("Reine des Danses Argentines").

The composer in question was Alberto López Buchardo, who lived in Paris at the time, and is best known for his Tango Germaine. Maurice was at Elim's event, as was Pierre Lafitte and his wife; the Princesse Lucien Murat (Marie de Rohan-Chabot), an amateur dancer of Tango; and M. and Mme. Jean de Reszcke. Jean de Reszke, was a famous tenor on an extended leave from stage. The previous year, de Reszke and his wife hosted dinners at their hotel-home on 53 Rue de Faisanderie, where Morris and Leona entertained the guests. "They gave the first thé dansant given in Paris" said Maurice in his memoirs.

The list of notables attending the Contest at the Femina kept growing. The Excelsior announced the jury, which was packed with French nobles, including the Princesse Lucien Murat; André de Fouquières, a well known fashion trend-setter and arbiter of taste; and Argentine Carlos García Mansilla (Baron Rey-Roize). The list of dancers grew so long that the Excelsior was forced to conduct two elimination rounds on the days prior to the contest. Maestro Manuel Sarrablo, a composer known for his Spanish tangos, was invited to lead the orchestra.
Oscar Mouvet, Maurice's brother, and his partner Regine, were also among those registered to compete. All was ready, but on the eve of the contest, Leona died.
Despite the tragedy, the Contest took place after midnight on May 26. The winner in the Tango category was Luis Bayo, who danced with Mlle Lemaire de Villers, one of his pupils. The second prize went to Francisco Ducasse, an Argentine actor who partnered with one Mlle. Delirio. After the show, Maurice danced a Tango with Mistinguett on the stage, answering the call of the adoring audience.

In New York, the show at the Winter Garden had morphed into The Revue of 1911. Among the featured acts was Al Jolson, of latter fame in the talkies; and Dorothy Jardon, a renowned composer and singer. In a letter sent to The New York Times almost 3 years later, Joseph C. Smith claimed that he taught and danced the Tango with Jardon in the Revue of 1911. Smith had been to Paris in 1910, where he presumably picked up the new steps, just like he did 3 years earlier with the Apache.

But Summer was a slow season in Broadway, there was no air-conditioning. The Revue of 1911 took a break. Americans traveled en-masse to France for the season, specially those belonging to The Four Hundred, a mythical group of the richest American families. Parisians in turn, vacationed in Deauville, Trouville, and other cities in France along the English Channel, and the Americans followed suit. Soon Tango was being danced in the resort towns too. Mme Jean de Reszke, and the Baroness Henri de Rothschild organized tango dinners at the Cercle de Deauville. A rivalry with the Boston was reported in Dinard, where an American contingent was pitted against "the South American forces led by Don Jose of Buenos Ayres".
M. Lefort was not going to go quiet. In late June, the International Association of Dance (IAD) met in Vienna. With Lefort's backing, the group issued a call for the réglementation de la danse, an attempt at categorizing dances by their perceived application. At the top of Lefort's heap would sit the dances of theater choreography (the sacred Opera), and the salon dances, his beloved Royal Dances. The Tango, the Maxixe and the Apache were segregated as "dances for music-halls", and most importantly, kept out of the category for "family dances". Lefort also criticized the Dance professionals for their lack of formal training. In his view, a Dance instructor should be versed in drawing and anatomy, and should know "at least 36 different dances" (but not the Tango).

In Paris that Summer, the action was slow too, but there was time for a Tango dance contest at the Bal Tabarin. By September, Maurice was back at the Cafe de Paris, where Ms. William K. Vanderbilt Jr. (née Virginia Graham Fair, aka Birdie), and Miss Katherine Elkins went to see him dance. Ms. Vanderbilt, a devout Catholic, was in search of someone to teach Tango to high-society folks in New York. The Reszkes had met Ms. Vanderbilt in social gatherings in Paris and Deauville, and introduced Ms. Vandebilt to Maurice. But even before Ms. Vanderbilt and Miss Elkins returned, the American press was warning of the impending invasion of the new dance in ominous tones. The introduction of Tango, they said, was "a plot to storm the citadel of conventionalities". The San Francisco Examiner's headline summed it all: "Beware of Tango Terror". One M. Balmaceda, a Chilean diplomat in Paris, was quoted: "I could not look at the highly respectable American ladies going through gyrations which in the very country where Tango originated are not considered proper".

In late September in New York, the Follies Bergère closed after barely 5 months of operation. The Winter Garden opened The Revue of Revues, and introduced yet another French attraction, singer and dancer Gaby Deslys. Deslys was the talk of gossip columns around the world for her presumed affair with the King of Portugal. Folks in New York were highly expectant of her artistic talents. But The Revue of Revues bombed too, Gaby turned out to be "just ordinary" to American audiences, and her sketch in the show was called "racy". Maybe Americans were growing tired of French-themed shows. And there were always nagging questions about the morality of some of these imports.

Maurice had also been contacted in Paris by Gaston Ettaire, the secretary of Louis Martin, a restaurateur that catered to the lobster palace society in Manhattan, and wanted to try his hand at the Parisian-style cabaret formula in New York. Martin had taken over the premises of the old Cafe de l'Opera, where he kept some of the old decor, made improvements to the operation of the place, and dropped the dress code.

Martin then hired Maurice to launch the show. Maurice arrived in New York from Le Havre on the steamer Rochambeau, on Saturday October 14, in the company of his new partner, Mlle Madelaine d'Harville.

Two days later Maurice and Madelaine danced the Tango at Louis Martin's, where they held court for weeks, the show was a big success. New York society put up with the strict reservation policy to see them. Their Apache was also a hit. And there was dancing by the customers until dawn too, the party took two floors of the building. The cover charge was 5 dollars, the Turkey Trot and the Grizzly Bear were favorites. "It was demonstrated by the Follies Bergère that you cannot bring people into a theater to eat. The Martin cabaret has shown that giving them semi-theatrical offerings at supper is popular and profitable".

On November 1, Gaby Deslys invited the entire cast of The Revue of Revues to celebrate her birthday at Louis Martin's, with the brothers Shubert in attendance. The Shuberts were busy retooling Gaby's Revue. A few days later Gaby had a new show, Vera Violetta, featuring Joseph C. Smith, Dorothy Jardon, Al Jolson, Mae West, and newcomer Harry Pilcer, who became Gaby’s dance partner.

In early December Maurice was interviewed by The New York Times, they ran a full-page story on him. He confided that he was planning to introduce dances of his own invention. The Four Hundred were lining up to take lessons from him at 25 dollars each. Tango was on the rise, and other shows wanted part of the action. Maurice and Madelaine were soon asked to join the cast of the play Peggy at the Casino Theater, on Broadway at 39th Street, a short walking distance from Martin's.

M. Lefort did not relent. In October the Congress met "and as the agenda of the meeting did not include any question relating to the Arab or Negro dances, the best agreement never ceased to reign". In fact, the Tango question was always in the air, the Congress proposed new dances yet again: a modern mazurka, a "valse-menuet Louis XV", and the "Argentine habanera", apparently a direct effort to replace the Tango. "In consecrating their use, the Academy yields to the public's taste", said Lefort when introducing this sanitized variant of the Tango. He explained: "These Argentinian dances are gentle strolls (sic), embellished with graceful poses, rather than dances; performed to melodious tunes of tango, but above all of habanera, they offer variety in our evenings and break (musically) the monotony of polkas, valses, etc". In Argentina, the newspapers lamented the events in Paris: "progress killed [our] Tango".



1. In his book, Art of Dancing, Maurice claimed that he brought Tango to New York in October 1910. Maybe it was a typo, the correct date is October 1911. Joseph C. Smith's claim about The Revue of 1911, points to Tango being introduced in the US as a stage dance, rather than the presumably popular dance it was in Paris. In April 1911, Smith was in New York with the musical Madame Sherry, and then went to Buffalo and other cities. In August he was in the Midwest where he produced Miss Nobody from Starland. If he danced with Jardon as he claimed, it must have been some time in May or September, but not a single newspaper noticed it, he is not named in any ads, and we found no evidence in the Shubert Archives to back Smith’s claim. 
In 1911 Smith was already claiming credit for introducing the Apache in the United States. But in fact, on September 18, 1908, several weeks before Smith performed the Apache at The Queen of the Moulin Rouge, Alice Eis and Bert French danced the Apache at the Casino in New York, in the play The Mimic World.

2. But Maurice does not mention the trip to Berlin, nor the Contest at the Femina, nor Gaby's birthday, nor Peggy: it's clear he was also carefully picking and choosing what to include in his memoir. Curiously, Smith claimed credit for introducing the Turkey Trot too. In this Maurice was clear, he started dancing the Turkey Trot in New York. Some of the more complex aspects of Maurice's personality were on display in the interview he gave to The Times, where he told a short version of his origin story, the one he expanded in Art of Dancing. "Nobody helped me. Never would I listen to anybody. I was always, always alone".

3. Lefort was not the only Dancing Master introducing new dances those years, since at least 1905 dances like "la kraquette" and "le kic king" had been introduced. But these dances barely stayed on the headlines, or were heard of outside of Paris. There was also la croupionnette, la likette, la chichirinette, ...

4. In April 1911, an article in The New York Times about the Tango craze in Paris, described all the Tango steps in detail for the first time:
First figure is a promenade: the couple takes positions as in the Boston. The gentleman takes a step slowly forward, resting two measures on each step, and the lady walking backward in the same manner.

The second figure is with the gentleman behind the lady. The gentleman poses the right foot backward, resting on the ball of his foot for two measures, and then glides the left foot back to the same time. The right foot is then drawn back: he bends the left knee, the right leg remaining straight. The lady, leaning a little forward. follows the same movements as her partner, but beginning with her left foot, while he inclines backward. In all the following figures the lady takes the same steps, but begins with the opposite foot from his.

Third figure. Danced side by side, the position of the hands remaining the same. The couple take slow steps to right and left, and then change to the opening fan movement.

Fourth figure, wherein the gentlemen stretches the left foot forward and crosses it before the right. In bringing back the right foot to the right side he poses the toe upon the ground and repeats by crossing the right foot before the left. This is repeated four times, the lady beginning with the opposite foot as before.

Fifth figure forms an opening fan movement, which is very graceful. The gentleman glides forward with the right foot, then crosses the left foot before the right and turns, passing before his partner. Then the lady dances the same movement with the opposite foot first, and passes before the gentleman.

Sixth figure. The partners take four gliding steps to the right and stretch the foot, the lady in front, remaining for two measures in that position. Then they glide four steps to the left and repeat.

Seventh figure. The partners take the same position side by side, as in the Figure 3. The left foot is posed and a little hop is made to the right. He then crosses the right foot to the left, glides forward and repeats the hope, this time being to the left side.

Eighth figure ends with a graceful balancing movement, the gentleman sliding the right foot to the right, and brings the left toward it, gliding the left foot backward, with the body inclining backward, the lady forward.

Chapter 2: Argentine Tango travels North

1. Mark Swartz from the Shubert Archives for the pics of the Winter Garden, and precisions about Joseph C. Smith and the 1911 Season.

2. Henri Chamoux for several tracks on this page. Chamoux is the inventor of the archeophone, a cylinder player. He runs and, dedicated to preserving audio material from the Belle Époque.

3. Jojo for several tracks on this page too.

4. The blog "Stuff Nobody Cares About" (people do care) 
1. Rafael Mandressi: Dancing with “le sexe”. Eroticism and exoticism in the Parisian reception of tango (1907-1914).
    Translated by Héloïse Finch-Boyer.
    A thorough study of the sexualization of Tango in the early days of Tangomania in Paris.
2. Une Histoire du Tango
    A veritable cornucopia of information on the history of Tango in Paris.

3. BibleTango
   Tango in France, an encyclopedia

4. Sonny Watson's
    Lots of info on Dancing in the first half of the 20th century.

5. Carlos G. Groppa: The Tango in the United States: A History

6. Odille Fillon's awesome video on the history of Tango in Paris, the Apollo, Charles Seguin
    [my apologies, where is the link?!]

7. Daytonian in Manhattan
    I dont even know what Daytonian means, but this blog is awesome!

8. James Gardiner: Gaby Deslys - A Fatal Attraction
    Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1986