While performing an exhaustive search for Loretta Young pictures, I re-discovered my November 18, 1946 issue of Life magazine (15¢). It did not contain the Loretta Young beach photo I was looking for, but it did have a photo essay on the Apache Dance. I had forgotten the Apache Dance!
Apache Dancers used to be a common feature of nightclub acts, and they were seen in countless movies and television programs. Now, thanks to our current obsession with being “politically correct,” we seldom see this style of “tough dance,” which elevated simple domestic violence to an art form.
Pronounced in French as (“ah-PAHSH”), the Apache depicted a Parisian pimp and his prostitute in an elaborate pantomime in which he slaps her, beats her, tosses her around, drags her by the hair, and dumps her in a corner. Naturally, this causes her to realize how much she loves him, so she comes crawling back to him.
Allegedly, an actual street fight circa 1890 in the Montmartre section of Paris inspired this dance. A newspaper reporter wrote "The fury of a riotous incident between two men and a women rose to the ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle." Flattered, the denizens of the Montmartre underworld created their own style of dancing which recreated the events of that night. The word “Apache” became synonymous with Parisian street gangs. There was a style of shirt known as Apache, and the Apache Dance was known as “the dance of the Underworld.” The correct attire for performing the Apache Dance was as follows:
Men: cap, neckerchief, tight-fitting shirt, tight-fitting pants, comfy shoes
Women: tight-fitting striped top, slit skirt, mesh hose, garter, high heels
The Apache Dance was as scandalous as it was popular. In 1920, the Smith College student Margaret Mitchell, who would later gain fame writing about Southerners “with gumption” in Gone With The Wind, performed the Apache Dance during her Atlanta debut. The resulting scandal kept her out of the Junior League. So, she stayed home and wrote a book.
Mistinguett, the most popular French music hall entertainer and in her time the most highly-paid female entertainer in the world, popularized the Apache Dance in 1909 with Max Dearly. The dance, also known as the “Valse Chaloupee,” was billed as one “in which the male partner throws and drags his mate around the stage in a sort of domination-theme manner.”
University of California students Alan Carson and Helen Hale
In 1946, Life magazine reported on the annual apache party that was held in the Theta Chi fraternity at the University of California:
“ . . . the girls said they liked being thrown around.” – Life, p.144, 11/18/46
By 1931, the Apache Dance was so well-known that Charlie Chaplin could use it in a comedic scene in his classic film City Lights. Here, the naïve tramp played by Charlie witnesses an Apache performance and tries to come to the aid of the woman dancer. In 1934, George Raft and Carole Lombard did the dance in Bolero. The movie Charlie Chan in Paris (1935) includes a nightclub performance of the Apache Dance. Ironically, Shirley MacLaine performed an Apache Dance in the 1960 film titled Can-Can.
Come to think of it, 1960 was probably the last time I saw an Apache Dance. Since then, it seems the pendulum of political correctness has swung the other way. We can no longer enjoy the time-honored entertainment themes of violence against women, racial and ethnic stereotypes, or making fun of the handicapped.
I should explain now for the benefit of those readers who do not know me, that I am not saying this seriously. I am joking (really).
But, I would enjoy seeing a well-performed Apache Dance again. It was sort of like a Tango on Steroids. It required perfect timing on the part of both dancers to avoid serious injury, but it usually ended with a kiss. Like life is, sometimes.