Scandal on the Dance Floor

Stately, graceful waltzes and fiery tangos steal the show on “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing With The Stars.” But did you know that when they appeared on the scene, they were totally taboo—and in some cases even banned? Social dances have long been an important part of culture and community, and tend to reflect progressive undercurrents in society: “They are a cultural metaphor,” explains Chrystelle Bond, a professor of dance at Goucher College and director of Chorégraphie Antique, a historical dance ensemble. Many dances that we consider mainstream today were initially deemed outrageous, distasteful or downright dangerous!

 

Here are some dances from the last few centuries that raised eyebrows when they first appeared on the scene.

 

The Waltz (1830s-40s)
When the waltz debuted in Europe in the 19th century, most other popular dances involved little or no contact between partners. The waltz, in contrast, required dancers to hold their partners in what’s now considered standard ballroom position—the woman’s left hand on her partner’s shoulder, the man’s hand on the lady’s waist.

 

“The idea of holding somebody in an embrace in public while dancing was too risqué, too scandalous,” says Richard Powers, a social dance historian at Stanford University. In fact, etiquette manuals printed in the U.S. in the 1830s forbade women from waltzing! Julie Malnig, a dance historian at New York University, points out that one book in particular, Donald Walker’s Exercises for Ladies (1836), went so far as to state that the waltz’s fast spins might cause women to suffer vertigo or spinal injuries. The waltz finally became acceptable in America after the polka grew popular in 1844. Though the polka used the same position as the waltz, “it was seen as clean fun” because of its “good-natured, sunny” spirit, Powers says. It convinced people that the waltz might not be dangerous after all.

 

The Tango (early 1900s)
The tango, an Argentine dance, took the world by storm in 1912. Like the waltz, partners were in an embrace. However, the tango called for slower, more sensuous movement and an intimate emotional connection between partners. In particular, the way tango dancers intertwined their limbs and pressed their chests together shocked high society—as did the fact that the woman took a stronger, more passionate role in the partnership (she was almost the man’s equal!). The dance drew fire from some religious groups. In fact, a Roman Catholic cardinal—as well as some Protestant ministers and priests—banned the dance a few years after its inception! Though the exact timeline of the tango ban is unclear, it’s generally acknowledged to have been lifted around the time that tango dancers were invited to perform for the Pope. The tango’s place in pop culture was cemented when silent film star Rudolph Valentino performed it on the silver screen in the 1921 movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.


The Charleston (1920s)

At the turn of the 20th century, Americans placed a lot of value in purity and self-restraint. Fast forward to the 1920s, and young people were eager to break free of these ideas. Women abandoned corsets in favor of loose-fitting clothes, cut their hair and wore short skirts and, most importantly, were newly empowered by the right to vote. It was in this rebellious, revolutionary spirit that the Charleston gained tremendous popularity.

 

Though the dance didn’t require contact with a partner, traditionalists disliked that it featured women in short skirts dancing with what Powers calls “an abandoned spirit.” Bond adds that women at Goucher College were suspended for doing this dance, even in the privacy of their all-female dorm rooms!


Rock ’n’ Roll (1950s)
When it comes to social dances, “one thing that always pushes people’s buttons is the music,” Malnig explains. This was certainly true in the case of rock ’n’ roll, which Elvis Presley brought to mainstream America in the 1950s. Though parents worried about the music’s sexual undertones and innuendo, teens enthusiastically embraced the dances that went with it—the jerk, the stroll and the hand jive were all popular, but the most taboo was the twist, which featured suggestive hip and torso isolations.

 

Another reason many older Americans were suspicious of rock ’n’ roll were the “African-American origins of the dance,” Malnig explains. “[Some people] equated African-American elements with heightened sensuality. There was an element of racism at work here.” So what changed? Not only did the civil rights movement take hold in the following decade, but TV programs like “American Bandstand” also helped make rock ’n’ roll more acceptable.


Social dance can reflect major changes in our culture, forcing people to question their ideas about morality, sexuality and the role of women in society. So the next time you and your friends hit the dance floor with some new moves, just think: You might be making history!

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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.

Aries

You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)

Taurus

As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.

Gemini

Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).

Cancer

Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.

Leo

We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.

Virgo

You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.

Libra

Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.

Scorpio

You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?

Sagittarius

You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

Capricorn

You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.

Aquarius

Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.

Pisces

Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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