by Barbara Stratyner

line of women dancersIn the early twentieth century, no American choreographer was more famous than Ned Wayburn. His chorus lines and dance routines enlivened dozens of musical shows, using virtually every movement idiom of the day, from tap, ballet, and ballroom to acrobatic and musical comedy styles to stomps, Charlestons, and shimmies. He invented the "Ziegfeld Walk" (so his showgirls could navigate the steep staircases designed by Joseph Urban) and found innumerable ways of incorporating stars and their acts into all kinds of musical spectacles. He moved masses of dancers and singers with the ingenuity of a military general and coined colorful names ("ponies," "peaches," "chickens," "squabs") for the tappers, specialty dancers, and showgirls who made up his choruses. He launched numerous stars, including Marilyn Miller and Barbara Stanwyck, and was a major influence on Hollywood musical films of the 1930s.

Ned Wayburn and the Dance Routine reveals the motley nineteenth-century sources of Wayburn’s work – minstrel shows; military, fancy, and aesthetic drills; spectacle ballets; cotillions; rhythmic gymnastics à la Delsarte – and the dance idioms that became the foundation of his mature choreography. There are chapters on the feature acts he created for the vaudeville stage, individual specialty acts, and chorus specialty numbers, with detailed accounts of how each of them worked. Besides vivid descriptions of many famous scenes (e.g., Fanny Brice singing about Nijinsky), the book includes a sampling of Wayburn’s "home-study" lessons and dance routines. Among others, instructions are given for the Savannah Stomp, a ballroom Charleston, and the "Original ‘Footloose’ Strut," a fox trot set to cha-cha rhythm.

Of special interest to scholars is the selected chronology of shows staged by Wayburn, the first such listing ever published, and the exceptionally full bibliography. All readers will be charmed by a score of period photographs that enliven an already lively text.

Barbara Stratyner is the exhibition curator of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Author of Popular Music 1900–1919: An Annotated Guide to American Popular Songs (Gale Group, 1988) and Taking the Pledge and Other Public Amusements (Theatre Library Assn., 1991), she is currently at work on a study of Jubilee Fairs.

Title: Ned Wayburn and the Dance Routine
Author: Barbara Stratyner
Pub date: 1996
7 x 10 in., 125 pp. (text), 23 pp. (dance instructions), 18 illus.
ISBN 0-9653519-2-0

SDHS publications

Studies in Dance History SDHS’s monograph series, published by University of Wisconsin Press, answers a growing demand for works that provide fresh analytical perspectives on dancing, dancers, and dances in a global context. Read more...

[cover of 2015 Conversations] Issued yearly in early spring generally, Conversations Across the Field of Dance Studies reflects the dynamic and diverse membership of SDHS. We seek to bring you themes and debates current in the field of dance studies and the profession, alongside news from the international community of scholars in dance and related disciplines. Read more...

To presenters at the 2015 joint conference with CORD in Athens Greece. Guidelines for submission of conference proceedings may be found here.

SDHS announces this year’s award recipients. Awards will be presented at the SDHS/CORD conference in June.

Dance Chronicle announces Founding Editors’ Awards, honoring Barbara Palfy in 2015. Sponsored by Dance Chronicle and Routledge/Taylor & Francis

Conversations call for contributions: Dancing the African Diaspora. Guest Editors: Takiyah Nur Amin and Thomas F. DeFrantz. Note that the deadline for submissions has again been extended. It is now July 15, 2015.

Updated 8 June: Upcoming events

Updated 15 March: Conference announcements and calls for papers

Updated 23 May: Job postings and opportunities for students

SDHS endorses MLA statement on learning another language

Connect to through this link and a percentage of your purchase will help fund graduate student travel to SDHS conferences.