Dancing in the Streets

by

Dancers

There is nothing in this world designed quite so elegantly as a Fred Astaire tap solo. The first time I saw him dance in Broadway Melody of 1940 with Eleanor Powell, I was hooked. Never improvised and always meticulously rehearsed, Astaire made everything look as easy as 1, 2, 3. Yet up until Astaire waltzed into popular culture during the 1930’s, ballroom dance was considered an unsophisticated expression of the masses. The scandalous dancers of Moulin Rouge come to mind when thinking of the state of dance around the turn of the century.

During the beginning of the 20th century, there was no dance as tawdry and disturbing as the Apache. Pronounced ah-PASH, not the American uh-PATCH-ee, the term originated from the Apache gangs on the streets of Paris.  Reaching far beyond the bravado required for the Tango, the Apache simulates a fight between a man and a woman, or as some say, a pimp and a prostitute. While the woman in the dance isn’t actually hurt, the simulation is enough to make your stomach turn as she is picked up, tossed, punched and slapped.


The original form of the Apache, 1934.

Yet a sick fascination with the Apache found it’s way into to television and film where it was watered down with a comedic twist. In order to find mass acceptance, the Apache was refigured into a form of slapstick in which the woman was able to exact revenge on her male partner. From a sexual, relentless brutality to a Three Stooges routine, the Apache demonstrates the transformative ability of popular culture. Popeye, Lucille Ball, and Shirley MacLlaine have each performed a Apache inspired dances with the intention of making you laugh, not cringe.


A humorous Apache from The Crazy Gang, 1937

By the time Fred Astaire began his on-screen relationship with Ginger Rogers in the 1930’s, dancing became a refined act that filled countless clubs and dance halls throughout major cities. Today, we have almost come full circle as popular dance is returned to the streets and one of the lowest cultural outlets, reality television shows. While we may never again see a new version of the Apache, we’ll also never have another Fred and Ginger.

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