On February 7, 1912, The Day Book from Chicago, Illinois published an in depth discussion of the Texas Tommy.
I will admit to being surprised to discover such lengthy coverage of the Texas Tommy, which today is mostly remembered as a footnote in the history of swing. According to this article, the Texas Tommy, despite its name, originated in San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. The article shows picture demonstrations of the “Texas Turn,” the “Texas Dip,” and the “Texas Reverse Swing,” and describes the dance’s basic step thusly:
“The dance begins in mad ragtime. In the first figure the dancers face each other in a catch-as-catch-can position, dancing individually , neither a two-step nor a waltz, but a step known as ‘Straight Texas.’ It is a peculiar little jig-step, which is kept up through the figures.”
The steps are described as “difficult” and “acrobatic.” In my experience, this is an accurate description of the dance, especially in comparison to other ragtime era steps. The author draws similarities to the cake walk, which had been popular several years earlier, in that it was also of African American origin.
The interviewed dancer is “Dutch Mike,” born Albert English. Mr. English claims to have adopted the steps in 1905 from a dance called the “Barbary Coast,” and embellished it. The article states that an African American dance hall entertainer from Texas popularized the dance in beer halls, and it thus came to be called the Texas Tommy.
The author states that Mr. English danced the Texas Tommy on vaudeville stages with seven other dancers, including Frank Hale and Marjorie Tolmon.
A google search for Mr. Hale turned up this amusing tidbit about his later life, published in The Bee from Danville, Virginia, in 1937:
“Mr. Frank Hale, on a bet, couldn’t now turn around twice without falling down. He would see sun spots before his eyes. Vertigo would ensue. Mr, Frank Hale is around 44 years of age, slightly corpulent and has been living easy for quite a spell. This is the same Mr. Frank Hale who, in 1911, and for several years thereafter, could execute 58 complete revolutions In a minute and twelve seconds while doing a dance that he brought off the Barbary Coast in San Francisco called the Texas Tommy. It was the fastest dance known to what we might call the terpsichorean art, and there hasn’t been any faster since. It Involved the use of a female partner, in Mr. Kale’s first case, a Miss Marie Tolmau, and the Texas Tommy was an old tune called “King Chanticleer,” which any doddering citizen or middle age will easily recall.”
I’m thrilled to learn that, at 44 years old, Mr. Kale qualified as “doddering.”
These images were provided by Chronicling America.