February 24th, 2010

Reanimating the Castles

Pacey Foster has a great post over at his blog detailing a recent discovery of — and creative engagement with — a 1914 book published by Vernon and Irene Castle, perhaps the premiere dancing couple in the pre-jazz age and crucial players in the formation of the “society” dance scene in NYC during the 1910s.

Go read the whole thing and feast your eyes in particular on the animated gifs Pace has constructed from the book’s plates, e.g.

I love the way Pace’s gifs bring these dances (back) to life, esp if admired alongside some of the music provided by the Castles’ in-house band, led by the great James Reese Europe.

I also like how Pace uses this (re)discovery and (re)animation to reflect on contemporary conversations about global flows of music and dance and (our?) cosmopolitan attachments to them:

From the Cortez, to the beautiful Tango to the Brazilian Maxixe, the Castles certainly seemed hip to the latest global dance trends. They even provide some historical guideposts. “The Tango is not, as commonly believed, of South American origin. It is an old gipsy dance which came to Argentina by way of Spain, where in all probability it became invested with certain features of the old Moorish dances”. What’s more, the first recording made by Europe’s Society Orchestra was the tune Maxixe (though it’s rarely included on Europe comps). I don’t know the story behind the selection of this Brazilian themed tune for the first song recorded by an African American band on a major label, but I’d love to hear it. In any event, with my pals tracking more recent/rapid diffusions of global dance/music trends, I love finding antique examples that seem so similar (if kind of slow mo) in their features.

But don’t just take it from me, go over to Pace’s & check the technique & leave a comment if so inspired. And while you’re at it, don’t miss his similar-but-ska gif (& raggahouse mix!).


  • 1. curm  |  March 6th, 2010 at 11:08 pm

    Author/Musician Ned Sublette says the tango came to Argentina via Cuba.

  • 2. w&w  |  March 7th, 2010 at 8:43 am

    Yeah, I would tend to trust that Ned has much better access to information about the tango’s travels than Vernon Castle did. I find it pretty fascinating that it appealed to Castle to complicate the (then) prevailing tango narrative and claim gypsy origins for it. I wonder where he got that from.

    I’m a big fan of Cuba and Its Music but, for what it’s worth, while Ned notes that the habanera rhythm is at the core of tango; that’s not quite the same as saying the tango comes from Cuba (though he does imply that it was sailors traveling between Havana and Buenos Aires who were the transmitters).

    I love his work, but Ned has a tendency to make some pretty expansive claims for the music of Cuba, and while I can buy a lot of that, at least at a certain level, sometimes I think we’d do well to bear in mind that a greater complex of cultural influences were always at play in the sort of stylistic genealogies he sums up as: “the Cuban habanera became the Argentine tango, which became the American foxtrot, which then returned to Cuba” (329).


I'm a techno-musicologist, internet annotator, imagined community organizer.

I left my <3 in the digital global, but I reside in Cambridge, MA, where I'm from.

I represent like that.

wayne at wayneandwax dot com

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