Jason Feifer: This is Pessimists Archive. The history show about why people resist new things. I’m Jason Feifer. The year is 1812, and Mr. and Mrs. R. Wilson are hosting a social gathering at their home in a posh area of London. It was to be a lovely occasion of eating, performative manners and passing judgment on each other, but what came next went beyond the usual nonsense. Instead, it became the weirdest act of violence I’ve ever encountered. Multiple London newspapers reported on it. The newspapers then reported on each others’ reports, and although each had slightly different details, I’ve read it all and pieced the tail together as best I can. And now, to bring it alive, I have asked a true professional to help me out. Here she is.
Zoe Kleinman: Zoe Kleinman, senior reporter, BBC News.
Jason Feifer: Zoe’s going to serve as the voice of the British newspapers who reported on this whole mess. Before you understand what happened, you need to understand the two main characters in this saga. The first is General Thornton, a respected military man who seems to be something of a beloved curiosity among high society. Here’s how the Morning Chronicle, a London newspaper at that time, described him at the party.
Zoe Kleinman: General Thornton, who has long been noted in the fashionable world for his propensity to waltzing, which was indeed quite a passion in him, had been as usual, engaged in a circle of couples in that performance.
Jason Feifer: This would have been a common enough scene in London’s high society at that time. The waltz was the cool, new dance, and all the cool, privileged kids were doing it, but after General Thornton wrapped it up, he joined with the newspaper called…
Zoe Kleinman: A Group of Commentators by whom it was, as usual, observed upon with a great variety of opinions.
Jason Feifer: By which I suppose the paper means a bunch of catty, rich people. One of these commentators was a man of letters named Theodore Hook, who is the other important person in this story because Theodore Hook had some words for General Thornton, some fighting words. But before we get to that, let’s set the mood here with a little waltz, shall we? How about this old 1921 record by Carl Fenton’s Orchestra. Yes, there we go. Perfect. Thank you, public domain music. Like I said, General Thornton loves waltzing, and he finishes his waltz and waltzes over to the commentators, where a fellow by the name of Theodore Hook delivers some commentary.
Zoe Kleinman: Mr. Hook spoke in strong terms of the indecency and immortal tendency of the attitudes and movements introduced and rendered more familiar by the increasing prevalence of waltzing.
Jason Feifer: To which the general says…
Voice Clip (General Thorton): No gentleman can speak ill of the practice of waltzing.
Jason Feifer: And then, he throws his fine dishware to the ground and everyone gasps. And someone says, “Maybe it’s time to leave this party, but others, they want to stay, and nobody can get their act together and decide and…
Voice Clip: What has happened? What has happened? What has happened to the national interest?
Jason Feifer: Okay. The broken dishware and all that stuff wasn’t in the newspaper account, but one has to imagine that General Thornton’s comments got the attention of all the party goers because this had cross an important boundary. The general said that no gentleman could speak ill of the waltz, and yet here in front of him was Mr. Hook, a gentleman who did speak ill of the waltz and that means… Well, the general was saying, “Mr. Hook was not a gentleman.” The general must have realized the broader implications of all this, so he tried to calm things down.
Zoe Kleinman: He declared on being called upon to explain that he did not mean to apply those words personally to Mr. Hook.
Jason Feifer: But Mr. Hook was not satisfied because if you are a gentleman and it’s implied that you are not a gentleman, then gentleman code dictates that you must defend your gentlemanliness in the least gentleman way possible.
Zoe Kleinman: The gentleman, we understand, took hold of him by the collar of the coat or by some part of his dress in a way, which according to the extremely delicate interpretation of the point of honor, is considered as a blow.
Jason Feifer: Whatever the hell that means. Point is, Mr. Hook laid hands upon the waltzing general. It’s not clear exactly what happened next but a few days later, the general got in touch with Mr. Hook and here’s what happened according to The Life and Remains of Theodore Edward Hook, a biography from 1849.
Zoe Kleinman: The general was compelled to demand a species of satisfaction which was very readily accorded.
Jason Feifer: Which is to say, the general and Mr. Hook grabbed their guns and marched off to Wimbledon court, where they were going to have a duel. To review, two dudes got into a fight over the waltz at a fancy breakfast, and the only logical next step was to shoot guns at each other. And this is madness, right? Madness! Except it’s not madness. This is what dancing does to us even today.
Dave Walker: Well, teens and parents hate it. The schools also hate it. We’re talking about freak dancing, has been banned in a lot of schools.
Jason Feifer: I love the way he gets into a little rhythm when talking about freak dancing. That’s Dave Walker of KCRA Sacramento. Actually, you know what? Wait. Can we just drop a beat there for Dave? Hell yeah, Dave Walker of KCRA Sacramento, you freak! Listen, here’s the thing, while we all know how today’s dancing trends can rile up in older generation, we tend not to know just how far back this thing goes. People have been upset over dancing for what seems like all of history, but there’s a reason that today, we’re going to be focusing on the waltz, and that’s because today’s modern dancing opposition can trace its origins back to this very dance, the waltz. A dance that today we think of as performative and classy, but in the early 1800 was considered what mystique would call… I mean, this scandalization was not just about one bitchy, rich guy at a party. Here, for example, is the times of London in 1812 raising a warning about the waltz.
Zoe Kleinman: So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice, but now that it is attempted to be forced upon the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it’s a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal, a contagion.
Jason Feifer: In fact, one of Britain’s most famous poets, Lord Byron even wrote a 2000-word poem about how much he hated the waltz, though I’m not clear if this was before or after ha had an affair with Lady Caroline Lamb and forbid her from doing the waltz because it made him too jealous. Here’s a little taste of Lord Byron’s work.
Lord Byron: The strangest hand may wander undisplaced. The lady’s in return may grasp as much as princely paunches offer to her touch.
Jason Feifer: I feel like I need a shower after hearing that. So, seriously now, what is going on here? That’s what we’re going to investigate on this episode of Pessimists Archive. We are going to look at the waltz, which involved no shaking of the booty, no grinding of the pelvis, nothing that Dave Walker of KCRA Sacramento might call freaky-deaky, and we’re going to see how this dance made everyone crazy enough to take to their pends and their guns. The answer actually tells us quite a lot about the reason people oppose dancing today and what we can expect for dancing opposition of the future. So, put on your dancing shoes because things are about to get hot. But first, a word from our sponsor.
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Jason Feifer: All right. We’re back. So before we get into the broader scandal of dancing, it’s worth asking, how far back do tales of scandalous dancing go? It’s actually hard to say for certain. I mean, dancing goes back to our earliest cultures. We’ve got cave paintings in India dating back 3000 plus years showing some form of dancing, but they don’t contain a stick figure wagging its finger. The bible meanwhile contains all sorts of references to dancing generally in relation to praising God. And although it doesn’t have anything specific to say about forbidden dancing, you can find all sorts of bible study website pointing out that the bible never mentions men and women dancing together.
So, I asked around a bit, looking for some early evidence of forbidden dancing and learned about this piece of German folklore called Dancers of Colbeck. It was written in the 13th century and tells the story of a priest who was holding a Christmas mask and shirt while his daughter and friends are dancing and singing outside, and this makes the priest just furious. And so, he places a curse on the dancers that forces them to dance nonstop until they die, which is to say it’s a… Sophie Ellis-Bextor was going for a metaphor there, but no, we are talking about literal murder on the dance floor. They danced and danced and danced until one by one, they dropped dead. And here’s the weirdest part according to Andrew Rabin who teaches English at the University of Louisville.
Andrew Rabin: The great [inaudible] here is that the tale leaves the reader to decide who is more at fault, the dancers or the priest who has cursed them with a punishment in excess of their crime.
Jason Feifer: But that’s not to say that people have always objected to all dancing because dancing has many purposes. It’s social, it’s cultural, it’s religion, it’s tradition. The question of the era is always what’s appropriate dancing and what is not? And the waltz came to fashion at a time when what was deemed appropriate, at least by the standards of the upper class in France, was brutally appallingly boring.
Richard Powers: Let’s go back to the 18th century.
Jason Feifer: This is Richard Powers, a dance historian and a social dance instructor who teaches at Stanford University and in workshops around the world.
Richard Powers: The culture of France dominated social dancing in courts, and then therefore in society, it would trickle on down. So, French court dancing was performative. If you want to evolve in the Baroque era, you’d be bored to tears because what it was, was literally hours of one couple at a time performing a dance while everybody watch. Starting with the hierarchy of the highest ranking at the ball and down, that means three or four hours, you would be sitting, probably making catty comments about whoever was dancing because it was a ruthless backstabbing culture.
Jason Feifer: So now, I can’t tell which is worse, being cursed to dance until you die or sitting there for four hours watching these catty bastards take turns on the dance floor. Now, not every country in Europe had such painful dancing, but the dances at that time did all have at least a few things in common. They were all very controlled, very proper, and included very little physical contact, but the waltz was the opposite of that. The waltz is fast and fun and made for socializing and came from a very tradition.
Mark Knowles: It was basically a fertility dance.
Jason Feifer: This is Mark Knowles, who’s on the faculty of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and author of a book called The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances. And this thing he’s talking about, a fertility dance just confused the absolute hell out of me because you’d think fertility dance would be all about making babies, right? See if you can understand this faster than I did.
Mark Knowles: Fertility dances were used as a ritual, and that the higher you would toss the women, that would symbolize the growing of the crops and how high the crops would grow.
Jason Feifer: The cross?
Mark Knowles: Crops. C-R-O-P-S.
Jason Feifer: The crop.
Mark Knowles: Crops. It means the wheat or the corn or whatever.
Jason Feifer: Oh, the crop. Like your child is a crop?
Mark Knowles: No. Not your child, but the field. The plants that were out in the field. So, the corn or the wheat.
Jason Feifer: Oh.
Mark Knowles: Sorry.
Jason Feifer: You don’t mean fertility for the people, you mean fertility for the agriculture?
Mark Knowles: Exactly.
Jason Feifer: Oh.
Mark Knowles: The agricultural fertility.
Jason Feifer: Okay. Got it. All right. That makes more sense, sort of. That doesn’t actually make sense, but it makes more sense. But regardless of who or what we’re fertilizing here, you get the point. This is a dance where couples are moving in triple time around the dance floor, spinning, and men are throwing women high enough into the air to grow a bushel of corn.
Mark Knowles: And as they were tossing them up in the air, of course, their skirts would go up in the air, and the way they would toss them is they would grab their hands under this stiffening that was in the buttons of the dress called the busk.
Jason Feifer: And to restate the obvious here, this means the dancers had to touch each other in the stiffening, but also, serious arm and back action, right? Hands are touching, faces close together. For that time, this was erotic stuff. Now, at first, the waltz was just popular with the lower classes. You heard that reference earlier with the times of London story talking about how the waltz was popular with prostitutes and adulteresses. Who cares about what prostitutes and adulteresses do? Everything with them is dirty and gross until you’re a man who goes and have sex with them, I guess, but then after that, it’s dirty and gross. And yet, the waltz didn’t stay with the lower class for long. Why? Because this is always bound to happen.
Voice Clip 7: I mean, pretty much wherever you look, you can find Miley Cyrus twerking.
Jason Feifer: Yes. You can always count on young, rich kids to claim a lower classes, dances their own form of rebellion, and then bring it into the halls of society. And for the waltz, that’s when the outcry began. So, let’s get into it. What were people’s objections to the waltz?
Mark Knowles: Many of them were moral, but there were also medical objections.
Jason Feifer: Moral and medical. Those are the two categories we’re going to break our episode into. And let’s start with moral. We should really get this main point out of the way because it’s obviously coming. There’s no surprise that people would be concerned about the easily corruptible moral standards of men, what would the menfolk’s weak constitutions and their easily manipulated sexuality, and oh fine, I’m just kidding.
Julie Malnig: The historical reasons for the protest somehow always go back to women and the body, and fears about sexual promiscuity, [inaudible] and taboos about the body. Fears always seem to come back to fears of and for the feminine that the dancing would just wreck havoc on the morals and sexual development of women and girls.
Jason Feifer: That’s Julie Malnig, cultural historian of theater and dance performance at New York University. Though for as predictable as that is, there are a few surprises in it too. For one, the most powerful woman at that time was actually a dancing queen.
Mark Knowles: Queen Victoria who is the most powerful monarch at that time, and she loves the waltz, so she would dance with her husband. And everyone was trying to imitate the queen, so it was wildly popular and at the same time, people were saying that it wasn’t appropriate.
Jason Feifer: So, this is essentially what it would be like if George W. Bush came out to say he regularly grinds on the dance floor with Laura and everyone else should too.
George W. Bush: As far as I’m concerned, the debate is over. I mean, I did what I did.
Jason Feifer: Shake that ass, Mr. President. But of course, although Queen Victoria set a lot of cultural agendas, she couldn’t stop people from worrying about how the waltz would impact women. There was, for example, the question of what all that spinning would do to a woman’s mind.
Mark Knowles: She would get dizzy and fall back into lust, or if she got overheated, then a gentleman would say, “Well, why don’t I take you outside to my carriage in the cool air and you can recuperate?” But then, she’s all dizzy sitting in the carriage and he could take advantage of her.
Jason Feifer: And if you want to hear how that concern sounded out of the mouth of someone from the time. I offer you Madame [Denjaly], a side character in the French royal court before the French revolution. Interestingly, the revolution would be a huge boost to the waltz because the waltz was seen as an anti-establishment dance. And Madame Denjaly survived the revolution though her husband’s head was chopped off. And in 1818, she had this to say about the dance of the common people.
Voice Clip (Fre…: A young woman likely dressed throws herself into the arms of a young man. He presses her to his chest and conquers her with such impetuosity that she soon feels her heartbeat violently as her head giddily swims. That is what they call waltzing.
Jason Feifer: It’s the hit new compact disk series. Now, that’s what I call waltzing. That about summarizes people’s concerns about the waltz and sexuality, but what’s more interesting, I think, is how people worried that the waltz wouldn’t just be sexualizing, but that it would also be liberating because here’s the thing about the waltz, the man and woman performed the same footwork. The dance equalizes them.
Mark Knowles: And this is in a way foreshadowing women’s suffrage and women receiving the right to vote and gaining more political power. So, they are matching the moves of men on the dance floor. That’s what social dances do, is they mirror society.
Jason Feifer: And hold on to your hats gentlemen because it gets even spookier.
Mark Knowles: In order for a grand waltz or Viennese waltz to work, I want to have to be strong. If she is too weak in that, you spin out of control. So, it’s showing that women are equally strong with men.
Jason Feifer: So here, you’ve got this dance where men and women are touching and their footwork is the same, and it encourages women to be strong and think of themselves as men’s equals, and we cannot have any of that. No, no, no. But of course, that’s not the way men would’ve actually spoken their objections. Remember our man, Theodore Hook, the guy who got into a duel with the general over the waltz, his writings are full of explanations for why he things dancing is so unbecoming for women, and her is a nice example.
Voice Clip (The…: Whenever we see a lovely girl doing that which degrades her, which must lower her even in her own estimation, we feel a pang of regret and lament to find conduct deported to the very echo, which reduces the beautiful creature before us to a mere animal in the sate of exhibition.
Jason Feifer: I love how he thinks he’s being a champion of women here. It’s like, don’t objectify them that way, objectify them this way! But of course, let’s be clear, there was still a lot of waltzing going on, tons of it. You show up at a society ball in the early 1800s around Europe, and you could pretty well guarantee to see a waltz at some point. Though it would take longer for it to show up in America because American saw the waltz as an upper class European thing, and no real American would be dancing like Europeans. No, sir. We prefer to just sit on our asses, eating freedom fries. But my point is, for all the moralistic objections to waltzing, women were still waltzing. And so, you might wonder, was most of European society just not concerned about them getting dizzy and taken advantage of in some gentleman’s carriage? And the answer is, oh no, they found a nice patronizing way to approve of the waltz.
Mark Knowles: It’s not all black and white because there was this idea that when a woman would learn how to do the waltz correctly, for example, you are teaching her grace, and you are possibly advancing her in society because she could make a suitable match on the dance floor. And there were rules in the ballroom where you would not… It’s not like you go to a dance today and you always dance with the same partner. Back then, there were very strict rules that you are not allowed, I should know this exactly, but I think it was, you could not dance with the same partner more than two or three times, so you’re constantly changing partners. And therefore, let’s say you are an upper class woman but you might then dance with someone who is titled, a duke or a count or an earl or something like that, and if you had the proper manners and poised and deportment and you’re a good dancer, there was a possibility that you could raise your station in society by making a good match.
Jason Feifer: So now, let’s turn to the second category of opposition to the waltz and that is health concerns. And here, I have to admit, I was prepared to be completely dismissive of these. If you’ve listened to our episode about the novel for example, you might remember that Victorian era doctors talked a lot about how novels were bad for women’s health because it sapped them of the small amount of energy that their bodies are able to create. And in our bicycle episode, we learned that doctors of the late 1800s warned the women getting something called bicycle phase, which was the constant wind would permanently stretch their pretty little faces out. For sure, there was of course plenty of that going on with the waltz too.
Mark Knowles: They believe that women had delicate constitutions. There’s actually one critique who says that rotary motion is injurious to the brain and spinal marrow. So, they believed that as people would spin, it would actually add all the brain, so to speak.
Jason Feifer: Anti-waltzers at that time talked a lot about how unhealthy the dance was either because it put too much strain on the body or because the dance floor itself was somehow unhealthy with all those people packed together spinning around. There was a doctor at that time who claimed that habitual dancing would take years off your life. He calculated the average lifespan for a waltzer. It was 37 years for a man and 25 years for a woman. Another writer calculated that if a woman did 10 waltzes at a ball, that would be equal to traveling 14 miles on foot and that it just way too dangerous for a woman in a ball gown. I mean, call that woman an Uber. She can’t travel that far. And whenever I hear stuff like this, I wonder, were doctors at that time just making this up? Did they start with the conclusion that they didn’t like something and then backed their way into explaining why it was dangerous by dreaming up an ailment? So, I put that to Mark Knowles who surprised me with his answer because the thing is, people actually were getting sick.
Mark Knowles: Oftentimes in the early ballrooms, they would put down something called crash cloths, and this would be a big piece of a linen that would cover the dance floor, and it was to make the floors flicker so that dancers could glide across it. But what happened is, when people danced on these linen cloths, lint-dust would fly up into the air and it would cover their clothing, and their hair would look white and everything like that, but they would also inhale it. So, there were also a lot of complaints that when people danced in a ballroom that had a crash cloth in it, that they would get bronchitis and it could lead to pneumonia and stuff like that. And there’s actually one report of the death of a musician who had played at several waltzes. It was blamed on inhaling the lints from crash cloths.
Jason Feifer: And also, this was a time before buildings had good ventilation. So, if a ball was being held during cold weather, they’d have all the doors and windows closed, and the place will be lit up by burning candles or gas lights, so the air was actually pretty noxious. And now, add to that, the way these people were dressed at that time with their many, many layers of clothing and the women wrapped up tightly, and on top od that, adding a crash cloth that’s kicking up a hell cloud of God knows what, so as it turns out, this does sound pretty unhealthy. So now, we have something interesting. We have people blaming the waltz for health issues when in fact, the problem was the conditions the waltz was being performed in.
This is so often the case with objections to new things, I think. People blame the new thing when in fact, the thing is perfectly fine. Waltzing is safe. The problem is the culture. The whole structure surrounding the waltz. I mean, women needed the freedom to dress more comfortably. Further innovations in building design were needed to improve air quality. When an innovation comes along and it seems out of place, let’s consider the possibility that the innovation is actually just fine and it is us, ourself self-imposed restrictions and our further lack of innovation that is actually the problem. We shouldn’t hit pause on a singular innovation. No. We should fast forward on everything else. So, what got us out of this mess? Weird Al knows the answer to that. Yes, the polka. After about 30 years of people freaking about the waltz, a new dance came along that cleared everything up.
Richard Powers: It just exploded unto the same in 1844.
Jason Feifer: That’s Richard Powers, the dance historian from Stanford again, and he’s not overstating that explosion. The polka crossed the ocean and spread around the world in one year, which was the first time that had ever happened with the dance. And Richard says, that’s because it finally gave kids permission to do the thing that they’ve been forbidden to do.
Richard Powers: So, the polka is a waltz but a happy bouncy version. For a music, it is essentially a waltz though. And it was so sunny and happy and good natured and bright. It couldn’t be perceived as unraveling the moral fabric of society.
Jason Feifer: The polka is a safe, goofy waltz. It’s like the candy cigarette of dancing. Here boys and girls, you wanted to dance a sexy dance, so we added Weird Allan, now you go have fun. But I’m sure we’re being harsh here because the polka actually got people to see the original waltz in a different way too.
Richard Powers: So that allowed people to finally dance in the arms, spinning around the room with a partner, and once it was seen that it didn’t cause any problems after all, that ushered in the waltz.
Jason Feifer: If something seems threatening, find a safer way to express that same thing. It’s like innovation inoculation, a vaccine for new things. But of course, although the polka had done its duty, the scandal surrounding the waltz would just replay itself in different forms forever because there was always some new way in which old people would feel threatened by young people. We can all think of examples of this, right? I mean, rock and roll for example. But we, at Pessimists Archive, figured there’s got to be a bunch of dancing scandals we’ve all totally forgotten about. Just for fun, we dug through old newspapers looking for them and oh boy did we find them. I’ll offer a few here. And to read them, I’ve brought in King Kaufman, host of the great podcast, Not Your Century, whose voice you’ll hear in a second.
Not Your Century is a daily podcast by the San Francisco Chronicle that digs up interesting stories from old newspapers. It is super charming. It’s like a five-minute history lesson to start your day. Definitely worth checking out. Okay. So, let’s get digging. First, did you know that American preachers once tried to eliminate dancing from the Presidential Inauguration Ball? Someone made a big stink of it in 1888 before the inauguration of President William Henry Harrison. According to a Chicago newspaper called the Inter Ocean, the preachers were…
King Kaufman: Urging General Harrison to rise to the occasion and place the seal of his disapproval upon the dance. The awful, the wicked, the demoralizing dance by either forbidding it or not gracing it with his presence.
Jason Feifer: That phrase “demoralizing dance” wasn’t just some writer’s clever alliteration by the way. That was the phrase that opponents used to try to frame dancing, kind of the way how opponents of GMOs call them Franken Foods. The phrase became super popular in the 1880s, though the earliest usage we could find was April 21st, 1829 in a Vermont telegraph story. It was about a native American tribe called the Wyandots, who had been targeted by missionaries and then turned Christian. And here is the article’s colonial hot take.
King Kaufman: They’re intemperate fists, they’re national and demoralizing dances in various races. Once their chief delight in pursuit, are followed no longer. The Sabbath now is hallowed. Morality prevails.
Jason Feifer: Gives you a good sense of what people were up to when they said “demoralizing dance”. It’s not just about condemning the dance, it’s about condemning entire lives and cultures. And when you really dig into this stuff, you begin how to see how dancing becomes a stand in for far broader judgments about people. For example, here is the Raleigh Christian Advocate, May 17th, 1871.
King Kaufman: Card playing and horse racing are not half so demoralizing as dancing is. It inspires envy. If one lady is more attractive in the whirling dance and moves with more ease and greater grace and winds more admiration, then she is envied by her associates who will try to detract from her in every possible manner. It blunts the sensibility of moral purity.
Jason Feifer: And on March 14th, 1888, the Clyde Herald of Kansas ran a piece about the Washington territory. It wouldn’t actually become a state until the following year. And the writer warned that although the climate and soil in Washing may be good, the inhabitants were another story.
King Kaufman: As far as I can learn, I am led to conclude that the dancing mania is epidemic in this part of Washington territory.
Jason Feifer: More or less, the opposition to dancing repeats itself like that. It is a judgment. A condemnation. A discomfort with seeing joy in someone you look down upon. Did you know, for example, about the New York Cabaret Law? It was passed in 1926 and banned dancing in businesses in New York City unless they had a Cabaret license. And then, it stayed on the books until 2017. Here’s an opponent, Jerry Goldman, talking at the city counsel meeting that year about what that law was really about.
Jerry Goldman: We’ve already heard about the racist history, the sad racist history of this world. Its original purpose, to keep whites and blacks apart, and it’s been used to punish, to deprive, to deprive those who deemed different by those that had power.
Jason Feifer: And it still goes on today. Here is Julie Malnig again.
Julie Malnig: I noticed when that whole freak dancing [inaudible] occurred, that the language and the sensibility behind it was very much the same that you might have heard in the late 19th century. The school principal actually said that the students were going beyond the bounce of propriety. Now, that’s like the language you’d hear in the 19th century.
Jason Feifer: So, where do we go from here? Is there a way to break this cycle? Julie brings up freak dancing which is actually a pretty valuable moment to return to. Remember that news clip I played at the beginning of the show.
Dave Walker: We’re talking about freak dancing.
Jason Feifer: So, that story they were reporting was about how the local schools in this California town had banned freak dancing. And then, a local DJ started hosting parties so the kids could come and have some fun but…
Voice Clip 11: [inaudible] those dances were taking place here at the Folsom Community Center. That is until some parents found out that some students were showing up in lingerie and dancing way too freaky.
Jason Feifer: And at the end of the report, this crazy thing happens, the reporter sits down and talks to one of the students who went to these freak dances and the girl says, “Listen, just because you banned this dance in our schools and now you shut down our local DJ, that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop dancing.” which I think is to be expected. But then, she says this.
Student: And eventually, as teenagers, we’ll grow out of it and we’ll probably be doing the same thing, but right now, we need our time to enjoy what we do and [inaudible] dances.
Jason Feifer: “We’ll grow out if it and we’ll probably be doing the same thing.” That’s what she says, but which, I think, she means, she realizes that one day, she’ll get older and she’ll be opposed to whatever dance style her children are into, which is, at once, an amazing insight for someone that age, but also, just so depressing. Let’s not give in to this, right? Let’s not say that the cycle is inevitable, that we will just repeat the mistakes that were foisted upon us because that’s just life. No! Come on, guys! No! We should not be doomed to repeat history. To recognize a cycle is to give ourselves the power to break it. This is why paying attention to this stuff matters. If we see the repetition, and if we see how generation after generation announces the same fear that never comes true, then at some point, we can logically say, okay, we’re good. The threat is imaginary and we can move on. Because you know what? History already tells us everything we need to know. In the history of dance, are there examples of anybody actually successfully stopping a dance?
Richard Powers: No, stopping it as a movement?
Jason Feifer: Yes.
Richard Powers: No. Never.
Jason Feifer: Never. Never, says the dance historian. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. Never. It is fascinating that their win rate is zero. The opponents-
Richard Powers: No, it’s better than that or their opinion worse than that. In almost every one of those cases, their approaches and attempts to stop it encouraged it every single time. So, all of the talk about the waltz made the waltz more popular. All of the talk about rock and roll music and dancing being a corruption made it more popular every single time. It’s not that it didn’t kill it, it aided it, it assisted it every time.
Jason Feifer: Which bring us back to where we began. With the duel between General Thornton and the gentleman, Theodore Hook. Thornton loved waltzing and Hook hated it, the two shot guns at each other. And as a result of that, the military forced the general into retirement. It wasn’t entirely clear what part of the whole saga was objectionable to the military, but the Morning Chronicle of London speculated that had nothing to do with the business of shooting a gun at another man. It was instead because General Thornton loved to waltz. And yet, on August 6th, 1812, the paper concluded its report on the matter with this.
Zoe Kleinman: If waltzing be, thus, considered as unmilitary, some of our district staff offices must reform for they think of nothing else.
Jason Feifer: Nothing would stop the waltzing. Nothing would stop the next dance either. Not guns or bands or doctors or parents or school principals or moralists or whatever dumb ass argument could be formed out of a puddle of sexual repression because like Richard Powers says, every attempt to stop a dance only made that dance stronger, every attempt, every time. So, if we must be doomed to repeat a cycle, if we cannot find the will to accept what 200 years of ridiculous cycle has taught us, then at least let’s rest easy knowing that this is the real cycle that repeats. Pessimists may object but all they accomplish is to fuel the thing they opposed. The music and the dancing will keep going. You cannot stop it. And that’s our episode, but it’s not the end of our time with Mr. Theodore Hook, whose legacy extends weirdly far beyond his duel with General Thornton.
In fact, Theodore Hook seems to have invented two things that you’ll be familiar with today and have surely used at least one of them. Hopefully, one of them. So, what are they? Oh, I’ll tell you. But first, have you subscribed to Pessimists Archive wherever you get your podcasts? If not, please do so so you will not miss an episode and leave us a review too. You can also follow us on Twitter at PessimistsArc, that’s pessimist A-R-C, where we’re regularly tweeting out amazing and weird clips from past pessimists, or you could visit our website, pessimists.co, where we have links to some of the things discussed in this episode. And we also love hearing from our listeners, so drop us a line, [email protected]. Thanks to the experts you heard in this episode. Richard Powers, Mark Knowles, Julie Malnig, and Andrew Rabin. Thanks also to our wonderful archival readers. They were, again, BBC News’ senior reporter, Zoe Kleinman, Not Your Century podcast host, King Kaufman, and our French vocalist, [Leonie Jena]. And thanks to Corey Cambridge, host of the podcast, Silent Giants and other people’s podcasts for making that remix.
The Pessimists Archive research team in this episode included Louis Anslow, whose voice you also heard as well as [Chris Cornellos]. We were recorded at [Dagross] Sound, and edited it by Jack Dixon of Hanger Studios. Our theme music is by Caspar Babypants. Learn more at babypantsmusic.com. Pessimists Archive is supported in part by the Charles Koch Foundation. Learn more about the foundation at ckf.org/tech. And now, finally, let’s get back to the gentleman, Theodore Hook. He was deadly serious about his hatred of dancing, but in most other ways, Hook was actually known as a famous practical joker. It’s just so weird. First of all, he once painted a caricature of postal workers onto his small card, and then mailed that card to himself as a joke on the postal workers. It’s not clear if any of them actually saw it or cared, but this whole thing has become known as the very first postcard, which is to say, Theodore hook accidentally invented the postcard.
And he also seems to invented swatting, that terrible thing where some bro is playing Call of Duty and places a prank call and sends a real-life swatting to the home of someone he’s playing against except back in London in the 19th century, it was Theodore Hook sending basically every chimney sweep, pastry chef, tailor and lawyer, doctor, wedding cake maker, reportedly more than a dozen pianos and more all to one house on Berners Street, thus, causing chaos in London and creating what famously was known at that time as the Berners Street hoax. So, there it was. A man who loved to pick a fight, went out of his way to create confusion and had very firm beliefs about what was and wasn’t appropriate for women. Let’s just say it, Theodore Hook was the original internet troll. That’s all we’ve got for you this time. Thanks for listening. My name is Jason Fiefer, and we’ll see you in the near future.