Watch your step! The dance police may be after you.

It was a century ago when some young people were creating quite a stir around the Androscoggin area because of the crazy, new dances they were doing. Dance halls of that time went to considerable lengths to rein in the youthful exuberance.

A popular dance hall in Mechanic Falls was the epicenter of this uproar, and it all came to a head soon after the Thanksgiving Ball of 1914. But it wasn’t the turkeys on the dinner plates that caused the fuss — it was “the turkey which has put its foot in by ‘trotting’ in Perkins Hall,” quipped a Lewiston Evening Journal writer.

The holiday dance had begun with the traditional “Lady of the Lake,” and the news story said that couples, as usual, marched up and down the center, “shaking the rafters and rocking the floor.” Dancers filled the floor for several time-honored “society whirls,” while Whitman’s orchestra played for the crowd.

The young ladies were dressed in dainty dancing costumes and “tango slippers” (a trendy orange color of that period). The young men were “counting to themselves, ‘one, two, three, hesitate,’ in case the swing of the hesitation waltz might be forgotten in the charm of the partner,” the reporter said.

So far, the younger generation was holding those scandalous new dances in check, but that night, the older folks and the hall’s management “formed regimental dancing ranks” and set forth some new rules.

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When the couples entered the hall, they were passed what they supposed to be a “dance card,” which had the customary order of dances, but to everyone’s surprise, the printed slip of paper said, “You are politely requested to cut out all of the so-called new dances, such as the tango, turkey trot, lame duck, grape vine and a dozen others, more or less, as well as the rag-time dances. It is up to you whether this is the last dance in this hall this season or not. Be fair. Is it fair for a dozen or so who like the new dances to deprive four or five times that number who do not care for the new dances of an opportunity to dance here in this hall this winter?”

The note went on the say expenses were barely covered, and “the management feels that rather than keep up a constant fight to prevent the dancing of the above dances, which you are well aware are prohibited at the Lake Tripp Pavilion, as well as most of the halls in the surrounding towns, they would prefer to close the hall to dancing” until everyone abided by the rules.

In the following week, Fred L. Perkins, one of the hall’s managers, wrote a long letter to the editor in rebuttal of the earlier story. Perkins complained that the dance hall story was printed “under double column, black, scare headings, such as you use for war news.” He said he was not opposed to the new dances, but had objections to the way they had been danced.

“With the exception of four or five people, the few who dance the new dances, dance them in no objectionable manner,” he said. “It is a constant fight to keep a few of them within decent bounds.”

Perkins said, “From the very nature and movements of some of the new dances, there are a dozen opportunities to make them vulgar and disgusting.”

Despite the differences of opinion, the newspaper reported that Perkins had rented the building to Mrs. F.T. Heath of Auburn “as a place in which to teach any and all of the new dances.”

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A later story said, “The announcement that the new dances will at least be tolerated comes as a great relief to the young people of the town as the new rules threatened to be a serious menace to their pleasure. Folks have come to the conclusion that there is no particular cause for worry after all.”

Nevertheless, concern about the modern dances was also catching the attention of churches throughout Androscoggin County. Several churches held meetings to discuss what should be done about modern dancing in the area.

That was a century ago, but it sounds a lot like a controversy that dates back many centuries and reoccurs very often. Does it remind you of the “flappers” of the roaring twenties? The Charleston and Black Bottom? The speakeasies of prohibition and the wide-open dance halls after repeal in 1933? What about rock and roll? The twist, the Watusi and hundreds of other dances in every succeeding generation?

As a popular song said, “The Beat — and debate — Goes On.”


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