Dancing till Dawn: A Century of Exhibition Ballroom Dance

By Julie Malnig | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
Exhihition Ballroom Dance in Early Musical Theatre

It was not only in vaudeville that exhibition ballroom dance rose to prominence. During the teens and twenties, musical theatre producers eagerly capitalized on the latest social trends, drawing in crowds craving the excitement and novelty of stylized intimacy in dancing. More than a passing fad, however, the incorporation of exhibition ballroom numbers helped rejuvenate early twentieth-century musical theatre, and signaled a new era in musical theatre dance. During the teens and early twenties exhibition ballroom dance was the predominant form of specialty dance featured in Broadway musical theatre productions. Indeed, many of the techniques used to integrate exhibition ballroom dance into productions during this time have endured to the present day.


BACKGROUND

The concept of individual couples performing virtuosic ballroom numbers was not known to musical theatre audiences prior to 1910. In the predominant forms of musical theatre in the late nineteenth century--comic operas, melodramas, and spectacles--ballroom numbers tended to be large, group-dance affairs, mirroring the ways in which social dances were performed by the populace. In the 1887 production of Erminie, for example, a very popular stage spectacle of the time, the Act II finale occurred in a lavishly decorated ballroom and featured a gavotte performed by the ensemble. 1 The popular European light operas featuring the melodious harmonies of Lehar, Strauss, and Offen

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