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History of Foxtrot Dancing

History of Foxtrot Dancing

Harry Fox, a vaudeville actor, is believed to be the originator of the Foxtrot, a type of ballroom dance. Trotting steps were a part of one of his performances in 1914 at the New York Theater, which gave this dance style its name. There is more to the history of the Foxtrot dance, which you can learn from this DancePoise article.
DancePoise Staff
Did you know?
Arthur Murray is known to have printed basic steps of the Foxtrot and sold the copies for ten cents each through mail, which was the first and one-of-its-kind effort.

'Social Foxtrot' and 'Bronze Level', popular in the United States, are Foxtrot variations known for their rise and fall chasses (or sashays), that gives this dance form its uniqueness. Watching a couple glide on the dance floor flawlessly and with pure grace makes you wanna learn it too.

Foxtrot is a smooth and progressive dance style. It seems like a flow; a wave one can effortlessly slide in. Continuity and flowing movements are the characteristic of this ballroom dance type. The meter or time signature used in this art form is 4/4. It is danced usually to jazz and swing (big band) vocal music. Foxtrot is identified (or simplified and taught as a social dance) with the basic rhythm or broken beat of 'slow-slow-quick-quick'. It resembles waltz in appearance, but is different in the beats (waltz is in triple time, or 3/4). Also, the rise and fall in Foxtrot is more subtle than in the waltz.

Foxtrot Dance History
Rising in popularity in the 1930s, the Foxtrot still continues to be a significant part of the ballroom series. Its history is somewhat uncertain though. There exists difference of opinion over who actually was the crafter of this style of dance.

Harry Fox
Harry Fox was a vaudeville actor, dancer, and comedian, who used to sing in the vaudeville theaters of San Francisco. After the earthquake in San Francisco, and the fire of 1906, he moved to New York. Engaged in these variety shows, he also worked together with Yansci Dolly of the Dolly Sisters, in April 1914. It was also a time when the New York Theater was getting a makeover into a movie house. The theater asked Harry Fox and his company of 'American Beauties' to perform a dancing act.

Ragtime music, or syncopated rhythm, which makes the music sound offbeat, was popular then. The favored dances during the period of ragtime music included Bunny Hug, Castle Walk, and Turkey Trot. In the Jardin de Danse atop the New York Theater, began the Foxtrot dance. Harry Fox performed some trotting steps to ragtime music as a part of his act downstairs. His style of dance thus came to be called 'Fox's trot' by the people. The movements he experimented with and brought through his dance became the famous Foxtrot dance. However, this is not accepted to be a true story by everyone.

Vernon and Irene Castle
Vernon and Irene Castle, a husband-and-wife dancing duo, is also credited by some to have refined and made Foxtrot popular. It was in 1914, through a Broadway show 'Watch Your Step', that this dancing couple and the Foxtrot style became renowned. Vernon Castle, along with a dance teacher Betty Lee, claimed the Foxtrot to be sourced from African-American dancers. Castle himself notes to have seen them perform this dance for over 10 years at a specific colored club. Besides, William Christopher Handy, an American blues composer, has written in his autobiography that, the Foxtrot was inspired from 'The Memphis'. It is believed that James Reese Europe, who was the music director of Castle, would play this Memphis Blues, which led Castle to create the 'Bunny Hug', or what was later named the 'Foxtrot'.

Interestingly, when rock and roll emerged during the 1950s, there was uncertainty among the music companies as to which style of dance they should associate this music to. So, initially, the rock and roll launch from 'Decca Record' was labeled as 'Foxtrots'. Especially 'Rock Around the Clock' had been regarded as the biggest-selling Foxtrot then.

Further Improvisation
Foxtrot is seen as the first dance to introduce a 'slow' count. Other popular dances until then only incorporated a single-rhythm. This ballroom dance type, as it originated, involved trotting, hops, and kicks too. A glide (Saunter) took the place of this original trotting, because it was observed to be quite tiring for dancers. Likewise, difference in the pace of dance or rhythm led to two variations - 'Slow Foxtrot' and 'Fast Foxtrot', the latter leading to what is called Quickstep today. The Slow Foxtrot, also the base to today's Foxtrot dance, was introduced by the English, as they altered the original American version. Still, the initial style continues to influence the Foxtrot danced today, which is reflected through the works of some choreographers like Fred and Ginger or Gene Kelly.

There remain some obvious and some subtle differences in the British, American, and International Standard styles of Foxtrot. Despite the dubious origins of it though, Foxtrot wins for itself a position well-above the others due to its continuity, eloquence, elegance, and grace.