Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Turkey Trot Dance (Descriptions & Videos)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post is part of an ongoing series on African American bird dances.

The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, entertainment, and aesthetic purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Here are two descriptions of The Turkey Trot dance. Notice that these two descriptions of the dance performance
differ. This may be because one or both of these descriptions are of adaptations of the original dance.

Comment #1
The name Turkey Trot relating to dancing goes back further to 1895 in the song “Pas Ma La” where the dancer is urged to go to the World’s Fair and do the Turkey Trot dance, so it’s probably a folk dance that became a Ragtime Dance later.

The Turkey Trot was not a very graceful dance, but it was considered one of the first of the so called animal dances to catch on with the public. The Trot was basically a face to face dance (meaning not off to the side of each other like the Peabody) taking one step on each beat of the music, while holding her tightly around the waist, or “hugging” as it was called back then. While dancing the Turkey Trot, dancers would sway to and fro, going in a straight line around the floor, while occasionally “Pumping or Flapping” of the arms was encouraged, thus giving the name of the Turkey Trot. Occasionally, the man would let go of the lady and dance behind her, and on occasion add a little hop or skip in step.
"La Pas Ma La" was the name of several late 19th century American songs. There was also at least one dance called "La Pas Ma La", although the cakewalk was also done to these songs or their instrumental music. Click for a pancocojams post on "La Pas Ma La".

Comment #2
The turkey trot was a dance made popular in the early 1900s.

The Turkey Trot was done to fast ragtime music popular in the decade from 1900 to 1910 such as Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. It lost favor to the Foxtrot in 1914.

The basic step consisted of four hopping steps sideways with the feet well apart, first on one leg, then the other with a characteristic rise on the ball of the foot, followed by a drop upon the heel. The dance was embellished with scissor-like flicks of the feet and fast trotting actions with abrupt stops.
It has been said that dancers John Jarrott and Louise Gruenning introduced this dance as well as the Grizzly Bear at Ray Jones Café in Chicago, IL. around 1909. Another theory states that it originated on the Barbary Coast, San Francisco, California. Joseph M. Daly wrote music for the dance in 1912. Irene and Vernon Castle raised its popularity by dancing the Turkey Trot in the Broadway show The Sunshine Girl.

It achieved popularity chiefly as a result of its being denounced by the Vatican. It was thought that the positions assumed by the dancers was offensively suggestive. Conservative members of society felt the dance was demoralizing and tried to get it banned at public functions, which only served to increase its popularity.

There were news reports of dancers being fined because "their Turkey Trots were interpreted by the courts as disorderly conduct." In another instance, fifteen working girls were fired from their jobs with the Philadelphia song publisher Curtis Publishing when they were caught doing the turkey trot; even though the dancing took place during their lunch break.

One of the means to combat "offensive" dances was the 1913 song, Anti-Ragtime Girl:
"She don’t do the Bunny Hug, nor dance the Grizzly Bear / She hasn't learned the Turkey Trot /...She can't tell a Tango from a Can Can or a Jig /...She's my little Anti-Ragtime Girl"

Video #1: 'Everybody Dance' from 'They said it with music'

Uploaded by MinstrelSurfer on Nov 11, 2011

Featuring all the dance crazes from the 1920's. Sophistication and fun! See the Castle Walk, Tango, Maxixe, Hesitation Waltz, The Toddle, Foxtrot, Bunny Hug and Turkey Trot.
The Turkey Trot is shown at 3:24 in this video.

Video #2: Little Eva - Let's Turkey Trot (Shindig 1965)

Uploaded by nyrainbow5 on Apr 28, 2010

A portion of this song's lyric refer to the history of this dance:
"My grandmother taught this dance to me
She did it at the turn of the century
Come on let’s Turkey Trot"
The backup singers [and not the backup dancers] give a glimpse of the arm flapping movements that were done for this dance.

Video #3: NCIS- Abby Turkey Trot

Uploaded by Caroline Vitry on Nov 6, 2011

Abby danse la dance du Dindon
"The Turkey Trot was featured on the 8th season episode of [The American television series] "NCIS False Witness". Show character Abby Sciuto dances the trot as she examines a turkey as evidence.

Here are several other related pancocojams posts: "African Roots Of African American Arm Flapping Dances"


** "Rufus Thomas & Crowd Control At Wattstax (The Funky Chicken Dance)"

Thanks to the creators of this dance, to those whose comments are quoted in this post, and those who are showcased in these featured videos. Thanks also to the uploaders of these videos.

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