THE CAKEWALK

The Chalk Line Walk as it was originally known in 1850 in the southern plantations and later became very popular from 1895-1905 as the Cakewalk with a resurgence around 1915. It origins are in Florida by the African-American slaves who got the basic idea from the Seminole Indians (couples walking solemnly). Many of the special movements of the cake-walk, the bending back of the body, and the dropping of the hands at the wrists, amongst others, were a distinct feature in certain tribes of the African Kaffir dances. The African Ring Shout has a certain tie to this dance as well.

These "Walkers" as they were called, would walk a straight line and balance buckets of water on their heads. Over time the dance evolved into a exaggerated parody of the white, upper class ballroom dancers who would imitate the mannerisms (namely the promenades and processionals) of the "Big House" (or masters house) that they observed the White's doing. These Slave's would have some fun with such a dignified walking, flirting, prancing, strutting, bowing low, waving canes, doffing hats, done in a high kicking grand promenade. The Master's and their guest found it amusing, while a few plantation owners frowned upon these shenanigans. For their 'Sunday entertainment', the plantation owners started having contests to prove to the other who had the best slave walker.

The idea of the Cakewalk was that of a couple promenading in a dignified manner, high stepping and kicking, mimicking whitey's high society. Some of the better plantation owners would bake a special cake called a hoecake wrapped in cabbage leaf on Sundays and invite the neighbors over and have a contest of the slaves, different prizes were given but originally it was a Hoecake for the males and molasses pulled candy for the ladies and whichever slave(s) won, would get the cake / Candy ... thus the term "That Takes The Cake!" (Plus others such as 'It's a Cakewalk' = very easy) and the name "Cakewalk" was now set. The dance grew in popularity even after the Civil War (1861-1865), but it would change and become more grand in style and clothing as time marched on.

Square
Square

THE TEXAS TOMMY

The Texas Tommy... is said by many to be the first swing dance. The main reason being is that during this period (1909), all the couples dances were done in "closed position," while the Texas Tommy was supposedly the first modern couples dance of the time to include the "break-away" step (energetically dancing from closed to open position and back) while using the basic 8 count rhythm of swing dance.

The dance is described by many who were alive during the time as a rough Lindy Hop style, only with a different starting pattern (Stearns book gives a pretty good insight to the dance). The basic footwork was a Kick and a Hop three times on each foot. Imagine using a modern 6 count timing, it might have been something like: 1-2&3 = Kick-step-step-step = Lt-Lt-Rt-Lt - repeat other foot 4-5&6. After these steps were done, dancers did the Break-Away step and did what ever they wanted to do. Most times the dancers did a Shuffle Step and swayed back and forth, then back to the basic step again. The Break-Away is described as pretty forceful during the time, as there were acrobatics with the "throwing of their partners around" involved at times. Stearns also writes that this dance was done many times with 4 to 6 couples at a time.

The "Fairmont Hotel" in San Francisco is written to have given birth to the Texas Tommy, which may or may not be true but did have a house band that regularly played the Texas Tommy music and was a major place to be for dancing. Dancers from Lew Purcell's would dance the Texas Tommy and make it popular in San Francisco, many of these dancers would bring some of the dances with them to the Fairmont, which was the swankiest Hotel and ballroom at the time. Anyone who was anyone could be found at the Fairmont doing all the latest dances.

Tommy by the way was a slang term for a "Trench or Foot Soldier" in the 1890-1910's, which the song title could be saying Texas Soldier. A 'Texas' Tommy was said to be a female prostitute who also worked the trenches and/ or walked the streets in the early 1900s.

Square

THE BLACK BOTTOM

The Black Bottom (aka Swanee Bottom) was originally from New Orleans, later worked its way to Georgia and finally New York. Some say the Black Bottom was introduced by blues singer "Alberta Hunter" (which is probably true as many songs/ dances were "stolen" and reproduced by someone else). However, it has been reported that the Black Bottom was derived from an earlier and similar dance called the "Echo." The dance was done all over the South before Bradford wrote his song in 1919. The dance is said to be a copy of a bossy cow's hind legs mirred in mud (12/14/1926 - Danville Bee Newspaper) other newspapers wrote that Mrs. Esther Gagnet from Texas states that the dance came from Sumaria (2/18/1927 - Lancaster Daily Eagle Newspaper) and other newspapers say it is of the Mississippi Negroe trying to dance in the sticky mud (2/12/1927 - Davenport Democrat and Leader).

Perry Bradford's sheet music had the music as well as the dance instructions printed on them. Bradford says that he first saw the Dance done in Jacksonville, (??) and decided to write a song about it in 1907 called the 'Jacksonville Rounders Dance' which used the term "Black Bottom" to describe the dance, but the song was not popular because "Rounder" meant "Pimp" (for the Pimp Walk) and no one wanted to dance to it, so he re-wrote the song and titled it the 'Original Black Bottom Dance' in 1919 which he introduced in Nashville Tennessee.

The Black bottom was basically a solo challenge dance. Predominately danced on the "Off Beat" and was the prototype for the modern Tap dance phrasing. The Dance featured the slapping of the backside while hopping forward and backward, stamping the feet and gyrations of the torso and pelvis/Hips like the Grind, while occasionally making arm movements to music with an occasional 'Heel-Toe Scoop' which was very erotic in those days. The dance eventually got refined and entered the ballroom with ballroom couples doing the dance.

In 1926 the "Black Bottom" became the rage and replaced the Charleston all together with the exception of it being done in the Breakaway, with the Lindy Hop eventually replacing the Black Bottom all together.

Square