The San Francisco Call examines “The Gayety,” August 21, 1910

Jessie Niles Burness published an article in The San Francisco Call on August 21, 1910 discussing recent innovations in social dance.  Professor G.R. Puckett is consulted and photographed for the article.  Professor Puckett appears to have been a San Francisco dance master.

The San Francisco call., August 21, 1910, Page 13, Image 13

The San Francisco call., August 21, 1910, Page 13, Image 13

Of particular interest in this article is the “Gayety,” a dance recently adopted (along with the Aeroplane Caprice, Society Swing, Boston Glide, and la Señora) by the International Association of Masters of Dancing in New York.  According to the newspaper, Professor Puckett’s class of 150 dancers demanded five encores when first introduced to the dance.

Ms. Burness seems to find Professor Puckett a somewhat obtuse interview, stating:

“[The Gayety] isn’t a waltz or a glide or a gavotte – oh, there’s no end to the things it isn’t, and nobody there could help me name any sort of family resemblance to it of any known dance, yet the dancing master was half inclined to resent its classification as a fancy dance.  ‘I teach nothing but plain, polite, ballroom dancing,’ he said.”

Ms. Burness perseveres, however, and discovers the following information about the Gayety:

It was originated by a Mrs. F. E. Wells of Milwaukee.

It is danced to a song called “Love and Kisses,” by someone named Harris, “played deliberately enough for grace but not for languor, in four-four time.”  I think the song in question may be the “Love and Kisses Caprice,” composed by Chas K. Harris, and recorded by Pryor’s Orchestra in 1905.  It can be listened to at the National Jukebox.  Be sure to listen all the way to the end for the “kissing” noises.

“At every count of ‘four’ the ‘foot is in an airy position.'”  Thus, the left foot is first in the “airy position”.

This is followed by a forward run of 3 steps.  On the fourth count the dancers “turn with a polka step.”

“[T]hen four in the opposite direction ending with the right in the airy position, with another turn, which brings you back to the place of beginning.”

The dancers then side step four to the right, and four to the left.  This is followed by a forward right and hop, left and hop, right and hop, and left and hop, with two beats to each step.  The article implies that this part moves slowly.  If the music referenced above is, in fact, the intended tune, this would be an accurate assessment.

The dance then begins again, “and continue ad lib.”

According to the article, the partners join hands in front of their bodies “as for skating.”  A number of explanatory images of Professor Puckett and partner are provided.  They illustrate a dance that is performed largely side by side, with only the polka step executed facing the partner (but still not in a customary partner hold). The pictures appear to illustrate the dancers, when side by side, as dancing on the same foot.  Thus, someone must, presumably, fudge their feet to execute the polka step, before fudging again to rejoin their partner in a side-by-side skater’s.

In researching this article, I came across the following regarding Professor Puckett and his dancing school:

The good professor appears to have run a dancing school, as pictured in the featured image to this article.  According to the print on the photograph, it was called Puckett’s College of Dancing.  Robert Bowen, author of San Francisco, states that it was located at the Assembly Hall on 1268 Sutter Street, and “was the home of refined dancing.  A large turnout could be expected for such monthly events as peanut parties with peanuts and favors for all, a Serpentine Battle, and an informal indoor picnic party.  Puckett’s advertised that it was always fun for all.” (p. 63)

avalon dance

The building, as it turns out, has a storied history.  Built in 1911 and designed by local architect Alfred Henry Jacobs, it was later called the Avalon Ballroom.  The Avalon Ballroom was famously used as a music venue in the late 1960s, catering to San Francisco’s counter culture movement, and featuring such acts as the Grateful Dead, and the Doors.

The Wikipedia article on the Avalon claims that the original 1911 building was called called the “Colin Traver Academy of Dance.”  This seems in conflict with claims that it was utilized as Puckett’s College of Dancing.  I have been unable to uncover the original source of the Colin Traver Academy of Dance claim; Chronicling America turns up no San Francisco references, and most web articles liberally plagiarize the wikipedia article.  I can, however, find multiple references in contemporaneous documents to Puckett’s Assembly Hall, with an address matching that of the later Avalon ballroom.  Additionally, examination of photographs of the Avalon interior reveals a very similar, perhaps identical, building to that featured in Professor Puckett’s 1912 photograph, should the script on the bottom of the photograph be accurate in describing Professor Puckett as the subject.  Modern pictures of the building’s interior can be seen in this 2013 article addressing speculation that MTV’s the Real World would be filming an upcoming season in the building.  This does appear to have, depressingly, come to fruition, although sources claim it was returned to its original condition, whatever that may be.

The article was provided by Chronicling America.  As this article is dense, and addresses several of the other new dances, I will examine it further in a few days.

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