Ned Wayburn and the Dance Routine: From Vaudeville to the Ziegfeld Follies

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

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