1910s – Ragtime

The beginning of the 20th century saw the introduction of ragtime dances among the middle class of American cities.

Significant dances

The Animal Dance craze was directly correlated with the popularity of ragtime music (improvisational melodies with syncopated beats, from African-American traditions). Both music and dance reflected the vibrancy of modern, urban influences. The music is typified by Scott Joplin’s rags and made popular to the middle class by “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” published in 1911. There were an endless varieties of animal dance fads, such as: Fox Trot, Horse Trot, Kangaroo Hop, Duck Waddle, Squirrel, Chicken Scratch, Turkey Trot, and Grizzly Bear.

The wildly popular Fox Trot was the offspring of the one step (one step to a beat) and rag (syncopation). Harry Fox introduced the Foxtrot in the Ziegfield Follies in 1913 as a trotting dance. It was later simplified to walks and trots (one steps and two steps) with syncopated rhythms. Initially regarded as outrageous, this animal dance later became known as a conservative basic for 20th century ballroom dance.

Irene and Vernon Castle codified the parallel stepping fads, giving steps dignity and form, and christened the Castle Walk. Influential in the dance scene, the Castles brought an air of cool elegance. Their first major success was at the Café de Paris, and their popularity grew when they returned to the US to teach and perform their new form of ballroom dance, leaving their mark on the “modern” ballroom style. The Castle Walk represented the pioneer format for modern Ballroom exhibition dancing.

The Maxixe, a Brazilian import, is also known as the Brazilian Tango. It uses the one step and the two step in an innovative combination. Both are done with a curve of the body and a downward stroke of the toe up-heal down stamp. With its catchy simple Latin beat, it was the precursor to the Samba.

The Apache was a popular dance pantomime in the Parisian nightclubs of Montmartre. It depicted a power struggle between a pimp and a prostitute. This lower-class theme intrigued the upper-class patrons. Called “Apache” after the warlike Apaches of the American Southwest, its most popular performer was Monsieur Maurice. It was a dramatic interpretation of social dance and a form of social commentary.

With roots in Africa, the Tango traveled to Spain, the Caribbean, and Argentina. The macho attitudes of Argentinean gauchos (cowboys) and the sensuousness of their seductive female partners inspired this ballroom form. The Argentine version was fierce, but the tango became more calm and undulating after migration to Paris. This milder, modified version penetrated society in Europe and the U.S. The tango’s pre-war popularity was symbolized by Tango Teas, trendy in 1912. The legacy of the tango was solidified in 1923 when Rudolph Valentino performed it in the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

This era celebrated the waltz in its “old age,” one of its forms being the Hesitation Waltz. The tempo was slower, and new step variations were introduced which enabled more creative handholds and individualized steps. Fast couple-turns were eliminated, opening opportunities for the expression of individual freedom.

Historical context

  • The League of Nations forms ahead of WWI.
  • The US becomes a world power. US Presidents are Roosevelt and Wilson, and Federal income tax is instituted.
  • The Russian Revolution occurs.
  • European immigrants flood the US.


  • James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Thomas Mann, Carl Sandburg, Aldous Huxley, and E.M. Forster write.


  • Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Schonberg, Satie, Alexander’s Ragtime Band produce popular music; first Jazz recordings are made.

Visual arts:

  • Picasso, Matisse, Chagall, Klee, and Munch make contributions to Post-Impressionist and Cubist art.
  • Silent film’s most popular stars are Charlie Chaplin and Sarah Bernhardt; D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is released.


  • Einstein publishes his General Theory of Relativity.
  • Margaret Sanger opens the first birth control clinic.
  • Sigmund Freud releases his studies in psychoanalysis.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, John Maynard Keynes, and Henry Ford make important contributions in manufacturing, architecture, and engineering.

Daily life:

  • A worldwide influenza epidemic kills 20 million.
  • In the US, the eight-hour workday is instituted.
  • The first airmail service begins.
  • Zippers and bobbed hair become popular.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume II: 20th Century: Tango, Animal Dances, Foxtrot, Castle Walk

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume II: Dances Of The Ragtime Era 1910-1920: Tango, Animal Dances, Foxtrot, Castle Walk, Maxixe, Apache, Hesitation Waltz

AMERICA DANCES! 1897-1948: A Collector’s Edition of Social Dance in Film: Animal Dances, Foxtrot, Castle Walk, Maxixe, Apache

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