Is Luton dancing mad? The headline was on a contributed item written by 'D' in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph (March 1st, 1919). It read:
Just a few lines to all you young folk of the lightly tripping order with the object of calling attention to a phenomenal phase in our local history.
When I say that my honest opinion is that a large section of Luton's youth is amusement-craving, especially in the form of a dancing craze almost to the verge of being 'dancing mad,' I realise at once that I enter into a controversial field.
There are varied views on the subject of dancing, whatever its form, and let me say at once that I am not one of those old puritanical 'stick in the mud' beings who, despite the supposed revolution in ideas and old principals brought about by the war, still hold up their hands in horror at the habits of the theatrical and amusement-loving folk, and roll up their eyes in amazement at such 'immoral associations'. This narrow-minded outlook has short shrift from me.
On the other hand, the present phase in the dancing world really grates upon my nerves. It is getting beyond the limit, and I must take my stand here and now in condemnation of 'too much of a good thing'. We all know the wisdom of the old maxim about moderation in all things, and it has occurred to me again as I have pursued my observations in the various public halls of Luton during the last few months.
Firstly, just a word about the craze for dancing, leaving for the moment any reference to the 'new-dangled' notions of the ancient and graceful art. Take the Assembly Hall, apart from the other rendezvous of Luton. Look at the announcements on the hoardings, and I guarantee there is hardly a night without a dance or ball, fancy dress or plain, private or public, in progress there.
I am not quarrelling with those balls or dances which have legitimate objects in view, such as the help of a prominent charity or local cause. These generally are necessarily of the very highest standard, conducted mostly with all decorum.
But really, a line must be drawn somewhere. During the past few months the dancing fever seems to have grown out of all control. Granted, much of it is a reaction from war strain, and Luton's phase is the local effect of the dancing wave which has spread all over the country, there is still a danger of our young people losing their equilibrium entirely.
Looking down from the balcony of the Assembly Hall I have seen the same faces all too frequently, and I know that this inordinate and unhealthy desire for dancing till the early hours, night after night, is a factor which our educational and social reformers – yes, and perhaps our doctors – will have to reckon with in years to come.
Only recently I have witnessed scenes which are deplorable to any decently disposed and moderate dancing devotee. There has been an all too obvious familiarity on the part of many dancing partners, and whilst again and again I have seen girls lifted off their feet during the lancers and whirled round in a disgraceful manner.
Really, this is dragging a very delightful art and recreation into the mire, and I do raise my voice in strong protest at the animal-like displays I have seen during the last month or two. I do not know how this craze for dancing is to be kept within reasonable bounds, but I think it is high time a form of curtailment or rationing was instituted.
As most of the public halls are Corporation property, our civic representatives would do well to insist upon moderation both in the number and the quality of the dances.
Luton seems now to have caught the fever for this 'Jazz' fiend, as badly as it was overwhelmed with the influenza germ. 'Jazz' seems to have such odious companions as 'Fox Trot,' 'One Step' and 'Hesitation,' and there is a danger of our town being rushed into as unpleasant orgy as that which is ravishing New York and London.
We learn that the one topic in American leisured circles today – outside politics – is the 'Jazz' dance. It is dominating music hall, restaurant and hotel, and many a private home. It is frenzied motion. If one understands what syncopated time in a ballroom means one will appreciate the definition of jazzing up as a kind of 'super-syncopation'.
There is an extraordinary individual who comes from California who is teaching New York how to jazz. His name is [Joe] 'Frisco' [pictured]. The wildest Dervish could not eclipse him.
The Daily News, referring to the craze, says: “To the outward eye nothing would seem to be booming so fiercely as the 'Jazz,' 'Fox Trot' and 'Hesitation Waltz,' but those who know are consumed with anxiety, for the Bolshevik bacillus is menacing the whole structure of specious prosperity. There is unrest in the ballroom, a lack of authority which threatened to end in anarchy and ruin.
“One source of the trouble is that people do not realise the difference between stage dancing and ballroom dancing. On the stage you want as much freedom and individuality as possible, but in the ballroom there must be some kind of uniformity.”
Now these remarks apply equally well to Luton, and I write with the object of stemming the tide of this 'Bolshevik bacillus' which is in our midst, and which threatens to engulf Luton's dancing public with its onward rush. I thoroughly agree that these atrocious animal displays will mean a dancing craze suicide, which will be all to the good.
But prevention is better than cure, and I hope our civic authorities will place a ban on this miserable prostitution of the delightful art and recreation. Already the 'jazz' business is being introduced, taught and performed in Luton, and the time has come to keep our dancing to its high standard, and to cleanse our community from a pest which panders to the lowest senses.