Vernon and Irene Castle—
This photo is taken from Modern Dancing by
Vernon and Irene Castle, originally published in 1914 by The World
Syndicate Co., N.Y.
had had much dance training. Vernon was a slapstick comic who had used
some eccentric dance steps that showed off his thin and gangling
physique. Irene was a hopeful actress. But they married and formed a
dance partnership in 1911, at a time when ragtime dances, such as the
Turkey Trot, Bunny Hug, Monkey Glide, and worse were joyfully embraced
by half the population and condemned as unsightly and immoral by the
The Castles first danced together
professionally in Paris in 1912. They did comic and acrobatic dances,
such as the new American dance,
the Grizzly Bear, in a revue at the Cafe de Paris. They danced in
supper clubs and in the homes of
aristocrats and nobility. They popularized the one step, hesitation
waltz, tango, foxtrot, and the Castle Walk (pictured at right and a
step taken from the comic Leon Errol). Most
conspicuously, they eliminated the ragtime wiggles, shakes, arm
pumping, and acrobatic dips, and achieved a smooth and stylish elegance
that effectively sold these new steps and rhythms, wherever they went.
They obtained an agent, Elizabeth Marbury, and became
extremely successful. In 1913, they performed on Broadway in The Sunshine Girl. During the
summer, they went back to Paris and first danced to James Reese
Europe's Society Orchestra and his version of Too Much Mustard. They opened
Castle House in New York, a dance club and a dance school.
In 1914, they introduced the Maxixe, wrote their book, Modern Dancing,
appeared in a film, Mr. and Mrs Castle Before the Camera, and performed
in a huge American tour. Arthur Murray took lessons at Castle House,
taught there for a time, and of course went on to great things. Irene
bobbed her hair; women across the nation bobbed their hair.
In 1915, they performed on Broadway in Watch Your Step, songs by Irving
Berlin, and made another film, The
Whirl Of Life. In December, Vernon enlisted in the 84th Royal
Canadian Flying Corps Squadron.
In 1916, Vernon went to England and then to the WWI
front lines. He made many bombing runs and shot down his first German
plane in November. He received the French Croix de Guerre. Irene
continued in Watch Your Step
with other partners and acted in a film melodrama, Patria. Castle House faded in
In 1917, Vernon crashed his plane in March and again in
April. He was invalided out, back to the America as a flying
instructor, first in Ontario and then in Texas. Irene acted in Sylvia
of the Secret Service and a total of 18 movies through 1922. Scott
Joplin died, Ragtime faded, Jazz was born.
In February, 1918, Vernon died in an airplane
accident.So their professional life extended for only a few years,
First World War. But they
were extremely influential in the dramatic growth of ballroom dancing
in the United States at that time.
"No one else has ever
given exactly that sense of being freely perfect, of moving without
effort and without will, in more that accord, in absolute identity with
music…. There were no steps, no tricks, no stunts. There was only
dancing and it was all that one ever dreamed of flight." —Gilbert
Seldes, theater critic.
A few "danceable" tunes of the time:
- Two Much Mustard,
Cecil Macklin, 1911, played by James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra
Two-Step, Wallie Herzer, 1912, played by Mike Bernard
Chanticlear, Nat Ayer, 1911, modern performance by Monte Suffern,
including a little Ma, She's Makin'
Eyes At Me?