I was fishing around in back issues of the Chicago Tribune (temporarily available online for free in beta test mode) and came across an amusing little report on the twenty-fourth annual normal school of the Chicago Association of Dancing Masters. On Tuesday, August 10, 1937, the Tribune (then known as the Chicago Daily Tribune) duly noted that in between the lessons, the dancing masters were speculating about the future of ballroom dance:
"While some instructors at the dancing school predicted the return of old-fashioned dances, the demise of the fox trot and the rhumba and even the reappearance of the gavotte and minuet on the dance floor, others disagreed."
Yeah, I'd have disagreed too, even without the benefit of hindsight.
Unsurprisingly, the teachers were all promoting their own particular favorites; in particular, Clement O. Browne, of Akron, Ohio, "described the grace and beauty of the Rye waltz, an old fashioned dance which originated in the nineties."
Now, the nineteenth-century Rye Waltz, which I described several years ago, certainly had a healthy life into the twentieth century (possibly all the way to the present day) in folk dance circles and as part of deliberate revivals of old-fashioned dance forms. There was even a hesitation waltz version created in the 1910s, which doesn't seem to have caught on. But I have a hard time imagining it as part of the modern ballroom dance repertoire. Happily, the paper provided a delightful photomontage, shown at left (click to enlarge) of Mr. Browne performing the first few steps with Betty Harris of Danville, Illinois. I'm sorry about the poor quality; I suspect it's a scan of a microfilm of newsprint.
In classic sequence dance style, the first part travels along the line of dance with a point-close, point-close, "chassee" (slide-close-slide) sequence, followed by repeating all of that against the line of dance, then by a second part consisting entirely of waltzing. The "chassee" depicted above is, not shall we say, typical style of the 1890s. It looks more like a lunge; one has to wonder if the reporter or editor mislabeled a photo-friendly dramatic pose as an actual part of the dance.
I'm fairly certain the Tribune also got the photo caption slightly wrong by stating that the Rye Waltz as a whole "used to be known as the old fashioned waltz". I'm pretty sure that the dance teacher meant the "chassee" only. The actual report describes that step properly as a "slide, cut, slide, or just the one, two, three", and goes on to note that it actually is:
"...just the same old waltz step, which every good dancer knows without knowing how he does it, one teacher said. Or, it was explained, it is the polka step without the hop, or the skip step without much of the skip."
Now that is interesting.
The "same old waltz step" being described here is actually the valse à deux temps, the two-movement or two-step waltz, which spread across ballrooms in the mid-nineteenth century and, with a slight change of accent and time signature, became wildly popular in the 1890s as the two-step. That's an interesting choice for the "old waltz step"; my first two guesses would have been the earlier valse à trois temps or the leaping "new waltz" of the later nineteenth century which, tamed significantly, was the close ancestor of today's ballroom waltzes.
It's impossible at this distance in time to tell whether the deux-temps form of waltzing was the dominant style in Chicago (or Akron, or the midwest in general) in the late nineteenth century or whether it was just the one that lingered a little longer and survived into living memory. Or perhaps the teacher was simply not well-informed about the dances of a previous generation. (Think quickly: what social dances were popular in 1972?) At the least, it's a little something to keep in mind when looking at midwestern dance manuals and dance cards from the 1890s onward.