Many dances have been labelled “scandalous” as was the Waltz when first seen in the 18th century. When the peasant dance, based on the Vuelta or turning action, appeared in the respectable court salons, dancers whirled around the floor, not only facing each other but also holding in close hold causing much disapproval. The three beat rhythm developed into several styles of waltz including the ballroom waltz, slow Boston waltz, Viennese waltz, Tango waltz and the classical waltz based on the ballet turn out of feet. It has become known as the Lovers dance and is often chosen as the first wedding dance and social evenings have a tradition of ending with the Last Waltz.
In the early 1900’s new liberating dances emerged in America fuelled by Ragtime. These new dances carried animal names including the Foxtrot derived probably from the music hall performer Harry Fox who executed a trotting dance to ragtime in the Zigfeld Follies in 1914. The exhibition dancer Vernon Castle and partner also incorporated this rhythm in their repertoire. When introduced into England, the I.S.T.D. standardised the rhythm to become the Slow Foxtrot; less jerky in character and more smoother style. Adding the slow beat gave the Foxtrot more flexibility and expression and replaced the one-step or two-step. The slow syncopated 4/4 rhythm needed to evolve to suit busy dance halls and to this end “on the spot” dancing developed and was know as “crush” dancing or now Social or Slow Rhythm. The later still used in ballroom medal tests to encourage soft, smooth and rhythmic movement. Variations of the Foxtrot are the Peabody, Quickstep and Roseland Foxtrot.
The origins of this dance is shrouded in mystery. Some say it was named after a Club called the Peabody others after a police chief from New York who frequented dance halls on the island of Manhattan. Being a rather portly gentleman, his lady partners needed to dance to his side and often held at a distance. Although an engaging scenario, there is no actual evidence that this Chief Peabody ever existed.
The Peabody began as a variation of the Foxtrot with the steps set to the faster tempo of Dixieland Jazz or Ragtime music. It is a fun, jaunty, even corny dance, celebrating an evening out. The steps are based on a open box pattern and as the dance moves round the room, needs a decent amount of uncrowded floor space. Although based on the box pattern, the couples can improvise using many jazz type actions adding to its attraction. It is considered as part of the American smooth category in ballroom dancing and in the past often featured in large competitions. James Cagney and Loretta Young dance the Peabody to the music of Darktown Strutters Ball in the 1931 move, Taxi.