Donnerstag, 22. September 2022

Paris and New York and Fresedo - Chapter 3: La TangoMania - Part I (1911)

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. In October, the talk of the Dancing Congress was the introduction of dances using animal gestures. 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 stunt by M. Leon Robert, a Dancing Master that had been teaching Tango to Mistinguett, and was working on the notes to Francis Salabert's forthcoming edition of El Choclo's music sheet. M. Robert was the head of the Académie de Danse Mondaine on Rue Pigalle, but relatively unknown in Paris. He went on to tell how Tango had been brought 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. "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.

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 known for his 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 of 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.

Though there was no Tango dancing in New York yet, artists from Argentina were still traveling to the US and Europe because of a lack of good recording facilities in Buenos Aires. Diego Munilla, Eugenio López and the Gobbis returned to Connecticut, and were busy recording for Columbia through the Winter of 1911. The new Columbia T Series was produced for the South American market from 1910 through 1920 (but it included matrices from the 1906 and 1907 sessions). Researcher Enrique Binda posits that, just like with Gramophone's sessions in 1905, Columbia's sessions were enriched with music scores brought by the visiting artists. These scores were then used by a Columbia "house band" that came to be known as the "Banda Municipal". From these sessions come the earliest known recordings of Lorenzo Logatti's El irresistible.

In Paris, on March 17, Le Journal published excerpts of Georges Clemençeau's memoir of his trip to Argentina. Incidentally, these were translated and published by The New York Times too. The expression “Vrai Tango” entered the French lexicon after Clemençeau, it arrived at a time when there was still confusion as to what constituted "real Argentine Tango". Spanish composers like Joaquín Valverde and Manuel Sarrablo were composing “Argentine Tangos”, capitalizing on their know-how and the blurred branding. Thus, the expression “Vrai Tango” came to signify a position with respect to this technical and ideological debate. We think that following Clemençeau's articles, Francis Salabert and M. Robert found a motif, and published the remarkable notes to El Choclo under the title ”Le Vrai Tango Argentin”. These would constitute the first written detailed description of the new dance.  
A few days later, 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 and others 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), a pupil of M. Robert; and M. and Mme. Jean de Reszke. 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 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 fell gravely ill.
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. 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".
In late June, the International Association of Dance (IAD) met in Vienna, and Lefort was France's sole representative. 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 work at L'Abbaye de Thélème, a restaurant in rue de Pigalle 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. Vanderbilt 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. For the show, Louis Hirsch composed The Gaby Glide, which became a hit. The Glide dance followed Lefort's Aeronette in a new trend on the stage.

 In early December Maurice was spotted dancing a Mazurka with Russian baritone Genia d'Agarioff in "The Dance of All Nations", a party of eccentric dances hosted by Ms. Aimée Gouraud (46 W 56th Street). That same day, The Times had published a full-page story on Maurice, where he confided that he was planning to introduce dances of his own invention. Ms. Gouraud already had a reputation for throwing parties that shocked and embarrased New York society. Gaby Deslys and Harry Pilcer were in attendance too.
The Four Hundred were lining up to take lessons from Maurice 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 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", the "Argentine Habanera", and Lefort's own version of Argentine Tango. "In consecrating their use, the Academy yields to the public's taste", said Lefort. 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". Around this time, M. Lefort published his own dance manual, which he called L'Art de la Danse.
In Argentina the newspapers lamented the events in Paris: "progress killed [our] Tango".



1. It’s very hard to tell the exact date of publication of "Le Vrai Tango Argentin" or "L'Art de la Danse", the only hard evidence we have only specifies the year, and the links to Clemençeau and the Congress of October 1911 are speculative. But then the question arises as to which set of Tango instructions was published first, Lefort's or Robert's. In short, there's a possibility that Robert's instructions were published after and in response to Lefort's. Salabert followed up with other titles.

2. 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 February 1911, Smith danced with Jardon in New York in 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 in the Revue of 1911 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. Moreover, Smith claimed credit for introducing the Turkey Trot, yet there's substantial evidence against this claim too. In this Maurice was clear, he started dancing the Turkey Trot in New York.

3. But Maurice does not mention the trip to Berlin, nor the Contest at the Femina, nor Gaby, nor Peggy: it's clear he was also carefully picking and choosing what to include in his memoir. 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".

4. 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, ...

5. Jean Richepin was a poet, playwright, and enfant terrible of French literature, that was admitted to the Académie Française in 1909. Richepin was now a mature writer, but he had not lost his knack for provocation. In his telling of the arrival of Tango, he claimed that Mme. Loulou Christi brought Tango to Paris. According to Richepin, Max Viterbo directed a revue (Excelsior) at the Comédie Royale, where Mme. Christi danced Valverde's Y como le va with Gaston Silvestre. But the evidence shows this revue played only a few weeks starting in mid-December 1910. Intriguingly, La Vie Hereuse published a pictorial linking Richepin to Tango a full year before in October 1909.

6. Full disclosure: Excelsior, from Manuel Sarrablo, was not published before the contest at the Femina in May 1911... and that picture of Joseph C. Smith dancing with Dorothy Jardon is from Madame Sherry, and not from The Revue of 1911.


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. Richard Powers for reviewing this text and providing crucial scans of Lefort's Art de la Danse and Le Vrai Tango Argentin.

4. Jojo for several tracks on this page too.

5. The blog "Stuff Nobody Cares About" (people do care)

6. for that wonderful Joaquina, and many others.

7. for that wonderful pics of the Femina and l'Abbaye.

8. The Discography of American Historical Recordings for the Columbia Series T tracks.

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. Nick & Melissa Enge have written an extensive study of how tango was danced since 1911. 
    It's illustrated with videos, a fantastic work of reference.
3. Richard Powers has an excellent take on 3 styles of Tango dancing and the historical context

4. Une Histoire du Tango
    A veritable cornucopia of information on the history of Tango in Paris.

5. BibleTango
   Tango in France, an encyclopedia
6. Sonny Watson's
    Lots of info on Dancing in the first half of the 20th century.

7. Carlos G. Groppa: The Tango in the United States: A History
8. Odille Fillon's awesome video on the history of Tango in Paris, the Apollo, Charles Seguin
    [my apologies, where is the link?!]

9. Daytonian in Manhattan
    I dont even know what Daytonian means, but this blog is awesome!
10. James Gardiner: Gaby Deslys - A Fatal Attraction
      Sidgwick and Jackson, London, 1986
11. André de Fouquières: Mon Paris et ses Parisiens
      Éditions Pierre Horay
12. L'Histoire du Bal
      Great website, and an interesting take on the Aeronette
13. Kevin Smith wrote about Amy Gouraud, the Four Hundred and the Follies Bergére in New York