Loading... Please wait...

Tango Corrupts the Soul

Around 1913 and 1914, tango was the in thing around the world: Paris, Berlin, London, Prussia... everywhere the tango was being danced and embraced. This is despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that at the very same time, tango was being denounced as barbaric, evil, corrupting the soul.

Below are some incredible newspaper articles about tango from those years. They provide significant insight as to the popularity and the (mostly religious) bigotry against tango.

[Note: to provide this for your reading pleasure, this author took scans of the original newspaper articles, fed these into optical character recognition (OCR) software, and corrected any recognition errors on the textual output.]

New York Times, January 16, 1914:


Cardinal Pompili on His Behalf Issues a Pastoral Letter Attacking Recent Developments.


Says the Tango and Certain Newspapers, Theatrical Performances, and Fashions Pervert Souls.

ROME, Jan. 13. — Cardinal Basillo Pompili, Vicar General of Rome, representing the Pope, has issued a pastoral letter denouncing the tango and also certain newspapers, theatrical performances, and fashions, which, he declares, are perverting souls. The Cardinal says:

"The tango, which has already been condemned by illustrious Bishops, and is prohibited even in Protestant countries, must be absolutely prohibited in the seat of the Roman Pontiff, the centre of the Catholic religion."

He urges the clergy courageously to raise their voices "in defending the sanctity of Christian usages against the dangers threatening and the overwhelming immorality of the new paganism."

He warns parents that if they do not protect their children from corruption they will be guilty before God of failure in their most sacred duties.

New York Times, January 5, 1914:


Orange Pastor Warns Parents Against Dancing Clubs.

Special to The New York Times.

ORANGE, N. J., Jan. 4. — The tango, turkey trot, and other modern dances were condemned from the pulpit of the Church of Our Lady of the Valley in Orange this morning by the rector, the Rev. John F. Boylan. He warned Roman Catholic parents to exercise greater vigilance over the conduct of their sons and daughters.

The priest said that many social clubs had been organized merely for the purpose of allowing their members to engage in dances which were not permitted at public balls. He told the parents that they should not allow their sons and daughters to go to dances unless they had the assurance of those in charge that none but respectable dances would be allowed.


Mrs. Israels and Miss De Wolfe Call It a Beautiful Dance.

Mrs. Charles H. Israels, head of the Committee on Amusement Resources for Working Girls, in discussing the propriety of the tango, said yesterday:

"The tango is a beautiful dance, if it is danced beautifully. But most of the dances called the tango are not the tango at all. As a matter of fact very few can dance it. In public restaurants a tango is played, as a rule, only once or twice in an evening, and then only a few get up to dance it.

"When the tango is spoken of as an improper dance, it is usually a mistake in terms, the word tango being used to describe dances which the tango really does not resemble. On the other hand, I think it is a mistake to condemn all the modern dances. Many of those which have been danced in the last two years or so have been ugly, ungraceful, and unaesthetic, but we arc now in a period of transition to more beautiful dancing. The tango is a sensuous dance—remember, I said 'sensuous' and not 'sensual.' The propriety of it as a matter of correct position. It is unobjectionable when it is danced correctly. That is true of all the modern dances. If the correct position is followed by the dancers, there is no reason for criticism. For that reason the Committee on Amusement Resources for Working Girls sends model couples to the dances it supervises, in order to teach correct dancing, and all are permitted to dance the tango, if they dance correctly."

Anthony Comstock, when his opinion of the dance was asked, said:

"I have never seen the tango danced, and therefore I am not in a position to criticise it. If what is said about it is true, though, I do not see how am decent people can dance it or allow it to be danced in their homes."

This is Miss Elsie De Wolfe's opinion:

"The tango is a chaste, refined dance. To me, it is the greatest rest, because there is in it so much repose, after the violence of the onestep. There is no eccentricity in the tango, properly danced, as there frequently is in the one-step. It is more like the minuet than anything else."

New York Times, January 6, 1914:


French Bishops Condemn It — Cardinal Likely to Issue a Decree.

Special Cable to THE New York Times.

PARIS, Jan. 6. — The French ecclesiastical authorities appear determined to kill the tango. The Archbishop of Camhrat took the Initiative some time ago and was followed by the Archbishop of Lyons and the Bishop of Verdun. Now the Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne has issued a decree condemning the tango as "profoundly dangerous to morals." He enjoins all confessors, especially those living in towns, to combat it with all their influence.

Pressure is being brought to bear on Mgr. Amette, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris, to issue a similar decree. It is pointed out that if his Eminence decides, as he probably will do, to take such a step, it will prove a death blow to the tango in real Parisian society, although it may not affect the somewhat nondescript cosmopolitan agglomeration which forms its fringe and seeks to pass itself off as the real thing.

New York Times, January 22, 1914:


Patriarch of Venice Issues Energetic Denunciation of It.

VENICE, Jan. 21. — Cardinal Cavallari, the successor of the present Pope as Patriarch of Venice, has issued an episcopal letter which is the most energetic of all those so far published with reference to the tango, and acquires even greater importance, as it is reported to have been inspired by the Pontiff.

The letter condemns the tango in the strongest terms, referring to it as moral turpitude, and adding:

"It is everything that can be imagined. It is revolting and disgusting. Only those persons who have lost all moral sense can endure it. It is the shame of our days. Whoever persists in it commits a sin".

The Cardinal orders all ecclesiastics to deny absolution to those who, having danced the tango, do not promise to discontinue the practice.

New York Times, January 26, 1914:


Cultured Dancers Pleasing, Awkward Ones Vulgar, Says Dr. Nieto.

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 23 — Rabbi Jacob Nieto, addressing the Congregation Sherith Israel today, warmly commended the tango and kinded dances.

"The old padres in the early days of the California missions were wise men," said the rabbi. "Every Sunday afternoon they let the people dance, and I watched them while they did so. In the Middle Ages the Jewish rabbis had the young people dance every Sunday afternoon in the presence of the parents and all enjoyed it.

"What we need is more common sense and less theology. The tango, danced by cultured persons, is beautifully pleasing; by the awkward it appears vulgar. You can take a religious ceremony and make it a farce."

New York Times, January 4, 1914:


European Church and Social Leaders Denounce It With Little Effect.


"It Kills Virtue," Says a French Archbishop, but Andre de Fouquieres Finds It "Too Sad."

Special Cable to THE New York Times

LONDON, Jan. 3. — The tango, which has apparently thriven on abuse, is likely to become even more popular as the result of an attempted boycott by a number of prominent English society hostesses, who have been contributing their views on the subject to The Gentlewoman. The tango in the course of its European career has won the disapproval of the Pope, the Kaiser, the King of Italy, the King of Bavaria, and the Queen of England and has still survived.

The Gentlewoman's article, which is entitled "The Dance of Moral Death," say that the tango "is admittedly the creation and manifestation of barbarism. How strongly her Majesty felt in regard to the matter may be gauged by the fact that the Duchess of Devonshire, the Mistress of the Robes, was desired to make it perfectly clear that nothing in the nature of the tango would be countenanced at private dances given while the King and Queen were staying at Chatsworth. Moreover, it has also been clearly intimated to those who are likely to be the Queen's hostesses in the near future that she could not consent to visit any house where such performances were allowed to take place."

Following is a selection of the criticisms collected by The Gentlewoman: The Duchess of Norfolk says: "In my opinion such dances are not desirable; for the tango in itself and in the comments that it leads to is surely foreign to our English nature and ideals, of which I hope we are still proud."

Lady Coventry does not think it desirable that the tango should be danced at social functions.

Lady Layland-Barratt considers it an immodest and suggestive dance, altogether impossible for any girl of refinement or modesty.

Lady De Ramsey strongly disapproves the tango and would never let it be danced in her house.

Lady Beatrice Wilkinson says: "Never having seen the tango danced, I am not in a position to give an opinion. If, however, it is anything like the horrible dances of negroid origin which have for the moment ruined English ballrooms, I very strongly object to It."

Florence Lady Lacon says it would be a pity if It were to become popular in English ballrooms.

Lady Templetown says: "I am happy to say I have never seen the tango danced, and, having regard to the many photographs, etc, which are supposed to set forth its attractions, I am in great hopes I never may see it."

Lady Byron says that the tango is acrobatic dancing — very often ungraceful — but it is the fashion, and that Is enough for its devotees.

On the other hand, the tango has strong upholders in society, as is shown by the fact that a well-known tango expert is teaching the dance to the Grand Duke Michael of Russia and his family, to the Earl and Countess of Drogheda, Lady De Trafford, Lady Cholraondeley, Lady Ralli, and Mrs. George Keppel. Lady Trou-bridge is also defender of the tango. She says: "I can see no radical objection to the tango if properly danced. I have seen it in London drawing rooms. It is far more refined than many other modern dances lately in vogue."

In order to discover the popular opinion on the tango, the management of one theatre is about to give a special performance of the dance by leading exponents. Every spectator will receive a slip of paper, on which he (or she) will be asked to express his (or her) views. To this performance will be invited the society leaders who have denounced the dance and leaders of the Church, among them the Bishops of London and Kensington. Father Bernard Vaughan, speaking on the subject of the tango, says: "It is not what happens necessarily at a tango tea that so much matters as what happens after it. I have been too long with human nature not to know that, like a powder magazine, it had better be kept as far as possible fireproof."

Orders have just been issued by the Austro-Hungarian army corps commanders that "officers in uniform are not allowed to dance the tango."

New York Times, December 22 1913:


Clergy's Efforts to Suppress Dancing Craze In Italy Fail.

Special Cable to The New York Times.

ROME, Dec. 26. — Strenuous efforts made by the Vatican to suppress the tango dancing-mania In Italy have proved a failure. Following the example of Rome, there was issued throughout the country a circular giving instructions to the clergy to initiate a crusade against the tango and similar dances as "offensive to the purity of every right-minded person and unworthy of being introduced into houses and receptions attended by Catholic women."

All the great Italian pulpit orators have fulminated against the fashion, which now, however, is practically general in the salons of the Eternal City itself.

New York Times, December 16, 1913:


Ruler of Bavaria Follows Kaiser's Example and Puts Ban on It.

By Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to The New York Times.

BERLIN, Dec. 15. — Following the Kaiser's example, the King of Bavaria has put a ban on the tango.

A secret Cabinet order has been circulated among the Bavarian army officers informing them that his Majesty will look upon it with disfavor if during the coming Christmas festivities officers take part in entertainments at which the tango is danced.
"The King," the order states, "regards participation in such a dance as absurd and unworthy of an officer.

"Officers must always remember the dignity of their position, even when enjoying themselves in company."

New York Times, September 28, 1913:


Reinhardt Thinks It Will Hurt Theatres More Than the Films Do.

Special Cable to THE New York TIMES.

BERLIN. Sept. 27.— Dr. Max Reinhardt, Germany's noted theatrical manager, thinks that the craze for exotic dancing, especially the tango, is going to prove a more deadly rival to the theatre than the cinematograph.

Berlin itself is on the verge of a whirlwind dancing season. Everybody who is anybody is taking tango lessons. The Argentine eccentricity is certain to be a popular feature not only at all public hut at ultra-smart private ballrooms during the coming Winter.

An American woman, whose husband's business in Berlin collapsed two years ago, recently started a dancing school and is now so overrun with pupils that she and her staff of assistants cannot cope with the custom which is offered.

Cafes and restaurants are adding ballrooms to their premises, and new establishments where specialties like the tango are danced exclusively are springing up everywhere.

'All this,' said Dr. Reinhardt to The New York Times correspondent, 'means that people are going to have less time as well as less money and less inclination for the theatre. I shall be much mistaken if the dancing epidemic does not affect the box office far more than ever the movies have done.'

New York Times, September 14, 1913:


"Fallen Stomach" Fashionable Disease in Paris -- Cure Is Easy.

Special Cable to The New York Times.

PARIS. Sept. 13. — "How is your fallen stomach?" is a form of greeting among smart persons just now, the disease in question being a fashionable ailment, the effect of too much tangoing.

Persons who insist on dancing immediately after meals two or three times a day cannot expect digestion to go on normally, and Paris physicians hail with ill-concealed joy the appearance of this new malady.

Fortunately, the remedy prescribed is a simple one: "Immediately after eating lie for half an hour with the legs in the air, or at least higher than the body."

At Deauville it was remarked on all sides that a number of young women insisted on piling up cushions under their feet on deck chairs, and it is feared that Paris salons will have to be provided with bars or railings on which guests not entirely recovered may he able to place their feet at the proper angle with the body after dinner.

New York Times, April 5, 1913:


Prepares Two Bills to Curb Dancing Which He Calls "Lascivious Orgies".


Several Places, Anticipating Visit of License Inspectors, While Serving the "Tea" Bar the "Tango."

Mayor Gaynor began a campaign yesterday to end objectionable dances, afternoon turkey trot teas, and other features connected with cabaret shows in the all-night restaurant districts, whereby he intends to place all dancing halls under city supervision and licenses. Under his orders the Bureau of Licenses made an inspection of many of the restaurants where dances were held in the afternoon and last night, and to remove the immunity claimed by some of the restaurant proprietors under the existing law forbidding interference with public dancing without a license, the Mayor completed the drafting of two bills, which he forwarded to Albany for consideration by the Legislature.

In taking this action the Mayor made it plain that he was not making a crusade against dancing itself, but against the conditions he found or was told existed in some of the places and which he considered against the morals of the community. Some of the dances, having no legal supervision, he said, had been carried too far, and in his bills he characterized them as 'lascivious orgies' in the so-called respectable dance halls "that have grown to be intolerable.'

The Mayor asks the Legislature to amend that part of the hotel law which excludes an establishment with fifty or more rooms from police supervision or the license law, and under which some of the restaurants assert the right to continue the dances without a license or other supervision. He says all must be licensed and close at 1 A.M. The bills were sent to Edward J. McGoldrick, Assistant Corporation Counsel, having charge of city legislation at Albany, and Mayor Gaynor requested their immediate introduction to both houses, and asked that their passage be urged. Of the bill amending the public dance hall law, the Mayor wrote:

'When that law was passed three years ago, requiring all public dance halls to be licensed, hotels having upward of fifty bedrooms were excepted. That exception ought to be and is struck out by this amendment. The regular hotels have no need of such an exception. The exception was put in for them out of mistaken precaution. They have ballrooms, it is true, but they do not run public dance halls. They only let their ballrooms out for use.

'A public dance hall is one open to the whole public; open to every one who chooses to come up and pay the entrance fee. The ballrooms in the hotels are in no sense public dance halls. We do not need to license them as such.
Tells of 'Rigged Up' Hotels.

'The trouble is that certain places have been rigged up as pretended hotels in order to come under the exemption of the present law. This exception enables them to run public dance halls without a license. That should not be. Every public dance hall should be licensed, whether it be in a hotel, or in any other place. There are demoralizing and disgusting public dance halls being run here in New York without a license on account of this exception in the present statute; the 'places where they are being run being so-called hotels with more than fifty rooms. They are not ballrooms let out for a night to parties having a ball. They are public dance halls pure and simple, and run night after night as such. They are all the more dangerous for posing as respectable

The second bill of the Mayor's is an amendment of Section 1,490 of the Greater New York Charter, prescribing hours during which he considers it proper for them to be open. The Mayor says:

"The amendment is that they must close at 1 A. M., and not open again before the following noon. No doubt it is necessary that people should be permitted to dance for amusement and health, and places should be provided for the purpose, and licensed, and supervised by the authorities. But to allow them to be open all night Is detrimental to health and morals. It seems strange that when this bill for the licensing of dance halls was passed no hours were prescribed for them.

"I trust that you will be able to get these bills passed. The lascivious orgies going on in the so-called respectable dance halls in this city which escape the requirements of license and supervision by the exception which I have referred to, have grown to be intolerable."

James G. Wallace, chief of the Bureau of Licenses, led his inspectors to the various cabaret shows and "afternoon dances" until late last night, looking the places over and gathering data which he will present in a report to Mayor Gaynor. Four of the big places were closed so far as afternoon dances were concerned when Wallace and his men reached them. Hundreds of persons were dining at the tables, but the dancers were barred. These places were George Rector's, Broadway and Sixty-first Street; Folies Bergere. Broadway and Forty-eighth Street; Keisenwebers, Eighth Avenue and Fifty-eighth Street, and the Taverne Louis, or Louis Bus-tanoby, Broadway and Twenty-third Street.

In two of the cabarets Andre Bustanoby, 110 West Thirty-ninth Street, and Louis Martin's, Broadway and Forty-second Street, dancing was continued all the afternoon and until the cabaret shows were ready to begin for the night. Both of these places were run under new rules, and men unaccompanied by women were not admitted to the dancing floor unless they could show they had tables reserved there with friends. These places said they were exempt from the Mayor's orders regarding the closing of dance halls because they came under the provisions of the hotel law relating to fifty rooms or more. Both places were more crowded than usual because of the closing of the others.

Wants to Hear from Mayor.

Andre Bustanoby said he would obey the Mayor and stop dancing whenever ordered to do so. He had a stalwart English butler, dressed in blue and gold, stopping people at the door and refusing them admission, under the new rules of the house. When a man appeared alone he was told that he could not enter the dancing hall without a lady. Some of them evaded the censorship by asserting that friends were waiting for them inside. An elderly man held up at the door declared he was looking for his son. The proprietor led reporters to the gallery surrounding the hall and pointed out how orderly everything was and how much the men and women were enjoying themselves.

"The afternoon dance is necessary," he said, "because so many women eat rich foods and pastry, and they get fat if they don't take some exercise. Here they dance and grow graceful and slim." Yes, they are having tea, too; see, there's a pot over there and another on that table," he continued, while numerous couples, some of the men bald-headed and their partners gray haired. danced the "tango," the "turkey-trot," or the more simple "one-step."

"See the spotlight," added Andre; "if any people offend, we turn the spotlight on them and make them behave," and he indicated a calcium light resting on the gallery rail.

The manager of the Folies Bergere announced that the dancing room was closed because the license bad expired. Hector's and Louis Bustanoby's voluntarily closed the afternoon dances before the Inspectors from the Bureau of Licenses Went there. "We have received no order from the City Government to close the dancing hall", said George Rector, "but we decided to do so for the present voluntarily. We-have no desire to antagonize the Mayor in any way. For the same reason we are obeying him in closing the place before 1 A. M. though it is annoying to our customers. But they are told they must get out, and so we have been closed the last few nights even before the legal hour." The afternoon dances were started in the upstairs part of the restaurant at Kelsenweber's, but not all who attended were admitted. Just before 5 P. M., a man who was humorously described as a soft shoe dancer, otherwise known as a rubber heel sleuth from the Detective Bureau, was said to be in the room, after that the festivities appeared to languish. At any rate a man who may have been a plain-clothes man walked softly across the floor, tapped the piano player on the shoulder and the music stopped at once. Some of the dancers said he was a policeman, but the management denied this, and explained that the dancing had ended to permit evening cabaret show.

Not one of the persons interested in the new ruling of the Mayor regarding dance halls and the early closing have announced any intention to contest his action in the courts. On the contrary they were all very much alarmed as to the Mayor's intentions and were willing to wait developments.


Waiter Ejects One at i O'Clock and General Battle Is Result.

When Frederick Fischer, a saloonkeeper at 54 Kent Avenue, Williams-burgh, tried to enforce Mayor Gaynor'a curfew order early yesterday morning, a crowd of Austrians who were playing cards in the rear room objected to being sent home, and before the fight ended two men had been hurt. Joseph Braun, a waiter, was instructed by the owner to use force, in putting out his patrons when words proved useless. Half a dozen men pitched into him, but Braun proved himself equal to the occasion by picking up Martin Tyburg, a cooper, of 2 North Seventh Street, and despite a rain of blows carrying him to a door and throwing him on the sidewalk.

Outside the fight was continued until a rock thrown through the front window of the saloon made such a noise that Policeman Scheer of the Bedford Avenue station ran to the scene and dispersed the fighters. An ambulance Surgeon patched up the bruises of Tyburg and Braun. Policeman Scheer arrested both Tyburg for malicious mischief and Braun for assault.

New York Times, February 16, 1913:


Group of Society Women Hire House Where Dance Will Be Taught.

PARIS, Feb. 15. - The Tango craze has reached such a pitch here that a group of society leaders, including Princess Murat, Mme. Jean de Reszké, and a royal Princess, who keeps incognito for the present, has arranged to place a sumptuous mansion in the Champs Elysees at the disposition of a young and fashionable teacher of the Tango for him to give a course of lessons to the smart set during the season.

Tickets in three colors will be issued: Blue for women of the most exclusive society circle, pink for other women, and white for men. The course will be opened by a brilliant féte, which will be one of the events of the season. All the principal Paris dandies will make a point of being present, notably Pierre Lafitte, the well-known publisher, who has shown himself of late one of the most agile guests at Mme. Adolphe Brissozfs Tango parties.

New York Times, August 20, 1911:


Visitors There Like the 'Triple Boston', but Bar the 'Tango'.

Dinard, Aug. 9. - Encouraged by the magnificent weather, entertainments of all sorts are going on every day, the unusual number of visitors, and especially of Americans, making Dinard one of the gayest summer resorts. Dancing is the favorite amusement, and the craze this year is for the "triple Boston," which has almost done away with the "double Boston."

An attempt was made this week to introduce the latest Paris dance, the "Tango," of South American fame. After a few experiments it was, however, discarded. as the majority of dancers found it a little risqué and more appropriate for the Montmartre dancing halls than for private drawing rooms.

Mrs. Dortio has begun her Thursdays at home and this popular hostess had a great many calls on her first day. Her pretty lawn was an excellent place for bridge players, and several tables were kept going. while the tea table, at which the hostess and Miss Everett presided, was also surrounded. Among the visitors were Mr. and Mrs. Brigham, Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Gilbert King, and Mr. and Miss Grey.

Les Figuler, the villa occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Du Maresq (nee Fitz Gibbon) was the scene of a brilliant dinner on Tuesday evening. The large covered veranda was transformed into a dining room, colored lights were hung everywhere, and the garden was illuminated with Bengal lights. The entertainment began with fireworks, and a string orchestra played during dinner.

Mr. and Mrs. P. Williamson Roberts gave a dinner party at their villa on Wednesday. their guests Including Mira Duthil Smith, who is soon going back to New York; Mrs. Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. Carpenter, Mrs. Disston, and Mrs. Deming Jarves. All went to the ball at the Casino afterward. The dancing floor was very full, and all the boxes were occupied. The display of gowns and jewels reminded one of a Parisian function at the height of the season. Among those who came from other dinner parties were Mrs. Florence Swift. who had with her Mrs. Biddle and Miss Carolan; Mrs. and Liles Ashrnead Bartlett, who had just arrived from England; Mrs. Lord, and Miss Lacey.

Mrs. Esler gave a tea at the Hotel Royal on Wednesday. Among her guests were Mrs. Topping, Mrs. Conrad Thompson and her sister, Miss Maude Conrad, Mr. and Mrs. Stevens. Miss Hardy, the Misses Neff, and William Paine. Mrs. Esler, who is going to Paris at the end of the week, will return after a few days and spend the rest of the Summer here.

May we assist you in purchasing a beautiful pair of tango shoes?


Please feel free to browse...