Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Texas Tommy - The First Swing Dance (Information & Two Film Clips)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post provides information about and descriptions of the early 20th century African American originated social dance called the "Texas Tommy". The Texas Tommy is considered to be the first swing dance.

Two film clips of "The Texas Tommy" are also showcased in this post.

This post also includes a film clip of the early Lindy Hop as shown in the 1929 movie "After Seben". That film clip is included because a summary of one of the Texas Tommmy videos indicates that its apparent from the dance sequences shown in "After Seben" film that the Texas Tommy is one source of the early Lindy Hop.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are featured in these film clips and thanks to all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the publishers of these film clips on YouTube.

These excerpts are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.
Excerpt #1
"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.

...Many dance bands of the day would travel the "band circuit" from San Francisco thru Mississippi to Kentucky, New Orleans etc., and end in New York and then start back again. The first written record was in San Francisco, California in 1909. Many dance bands or composers of the day would write dance music that had the directions for doing the dance in the verses, such as the Maxixe, Texas Tommy, Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trot etc. At the time, many Composer / Musicians would look for a new dance to write a song about.

...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 is said to be a female prostitute who also worked the trenches and/ or walked the streets in the early 1900s.

The Texas Tommy may go all the way back to the Civil War... however unlikely; There was a famous black dancer named "Tom from Palestine" Texas, that was known for "putting a glass of water on his head and making his feet go like trip-hammers and sounding something like a snare drum," he would "whirl around and such" while all his movements were from the "waist down, without spilling a drop of water." He was known as "The Jigginest fellow ever was" (sounds like Juba .) Although this does not sound like a swing dance and obviously more directly a Tap/Clog/Jig dancer because he danced by himself, and was probably doing a form of Jig or Buck dancing, he may have later had something to do with the rhythms and such but doubtful. Another may have been in east Texas, by a well known Blues Pioneer "Ragtime Texas Henry" Thomas who in the late 1800's played at many "Juke Joints" along the way to his fame.”...

Example #2:
"The Texas Tommy is a vigorous social dance for couples that originated in San Francisco in the early twentieth century.[1]

Some social dance historians have argued that the Texas Tommy was the first swing dance. The argument is that it was the first social dance using the basic 8-count rhythm of swing dance to include a breakaway step from the closed position of other couple dances of the time.[9] Ethel Williams, who helped to popularize the dance in New York in 1913, described it as a "kick and a hop three times on each foot followed by a slide." The basic steps are followed by a breakaway, an open position that allowed for acrobatics, antics, improvisations, and showing off. Working from an old film of the dance, she also described it as having a basic pattern of "a loose step, hop-kick, step, hop-kick, run, run, run, run" and identified a "useful variation" of four step-kicks that "agrees with the open and improvisational manner that the Texas Tommy was described to have in many of the written references."[10]....

Original sheet music
The "Texas Tommy Swing" was composed by Sid Brown, with lyrics by Val Harris, and was published by the World's Fair Publishing Company in San Francisco in January or February 1911. The sheet music cover was designed in the form of the front page of a newspaper, with the headline reading "The Dance That Makes the Whole World Stare." The faux newspaper included reprints of three articles from the San Francisco Examiner, headlined "Pavlowa Endorsed Texas Tommy Swing," "Mrs. Oelriches Liked Texas Tommy Swing," and "The Story of the Dance," which is transcribed here:
A breath from the cotton fields - the grizzly bear, the loving hug, the walk-back and the turkey-trot all blend in Texas Tommy Swing.

The Texas Tommy Swing invades the north and east like a dainty zephyr from the perfumed cotton fields of the sunny South. The rhythm of the Grizzy Bear, the inspiration of the Loving Hug, the grace of the Walk-Back and the abandon of the Turkey-Trot all blend in the harmony of the Texas Tommy Swing, which was really the parent of all the others.

The dance originated more than forty years ago among the negroes of the old Southern plantations. Every little movement has a meaning all its own to the heart truly in tune with nature. The graceful harmonies of the song and dance reflect the joyous spirit of the negro race, the care-free actions of the Dinahs and the Sams who gathered outside the cabin doors on moonlit nights and to the twang of the banjo or the scrape of the fiddle, vented the rhapsodies of mind and body in a purely natural way.

Here and there a raucous discord like the squacking voice of a chicken in distress breaks in upon the frivolous melody of the theme or a plaintive note brings a reminder of the tear always so close to the laugh in the negro nature.

Southern darkies brought the dance and a suggestion of the melody to San Francisco several years ago, and there upon the Barbary Coast it was rounded into perfect harmony. It took the place by storm. Eastern people interested in dancing took it up. Stage favorites seized upon its absorbing rhapsodies.

Society men and women accepted and adopted it. Pavlowa, the Czar's favorite dancer, went into raptures over it and incorporated it in her repertoire. Leaders of the four hundred all over the country regard it as one of the sights of San Francisco and endorse it to their friends on their return.

In tangible and concrete form this inspiring, historic and dramatic song and dance is now presented to the public for the first time, in Texas Tommy Swing.
Notes and references [for the book that contained the passage given in blockquotes]
Albert and Josephine Butler, "Texas Tommy," in The Encyclopedia of Social Dance (New York: Albert Butler Ballroom Dance Service, 1971)."

Example #1: A 1914 film showing black people dancing in a dance hall - Great dance moves. Getting jiggy with it!

ricsil2037, Published on Jul 21, 2012

...This is a 1914 film showing black people dancing on a dance floor. They are getting jiggy with it. Interior of a Black dance hall with band and dancers.

DISCLAIMER: This video is part of the Prelinger Archives with the Creative Commons Public Domain Mark 1.0 license. This video is in the Public Domain.
Some commenters in that "video's" discussion thread indicated that one of the dances that the dancers were doing was the "Texas Tommy".

Here are links to two other YouTube examples of this film clip with added sound:
American dancers in 1914, jazz dance in a black club with Kid Ory's 'Ballin' the Jack'

** Dancing (1914)

Example #2: The original Texas Tommy

Richard Powers, Published on Jan 11, 2015

An amateur film shot in San Francisco around 1910, showing the one-step in a dance hall, then the Texas Tommy in the street, then another couple doing the Texas Tommy in an indoor dance hall. The Texas Tommy was the earliest version of swing dancing. Two of the African American Texas Tommy dancers - Ethel Williams and Johnny Peters - traveled to New York (Harlem) in 1911, where the transplanted Texas Tommy became popular, mostly as a vaudeville act, then evolved into an easier social dance version at the Savoy Ballroom (1926), which then became the Lindy hop by 1928. Watch Shorty George Snowden and his Savoy Ballroom dancers dance the 1929 version in "After Seben" and the roots of the Texas Tommy are apparent.
African American dancers are shown in this film clip beginning at .015

ADDENDUM -"After Seben" Film Clip
(that is mentioned in the summary to the "video" given as Example #2 above)

After Seben (1929)

Swungover, Published on Oct 2, 2013

This clip from 1929 is by most accounts the birth of Lindy Hop on film.
*"After Seben" = "After Seven" (meaning, in the evening; at night)

Here's the summary of another YouTube video of this same film clip ("Early Savoy Lindy Hop", posted by Richard Powers, Published on Jan 11, 2015
" "Shorty" George Snowden and his dancers from the Savoy Ballroom, dancing to music by Chick Webb And His Orchestra, in the 1929 film "After Seben." Note that each couple not only has a different style, but also a different timing. Couple #1 dances it QQ-S, rock-step first, and includes 6-count timing at the end. Couple #2 is clearly S-QQ, side-step first, as is couple #3, Shorty Snowden. Over the next five years the music changed to a swung rhythm, and the slow step of the QQ-S timing was replaced with a triple step."

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