The Apache (pronounced A-Posh or A-Poe-Shay) dance originated in the Parisian lower classes. The USA pronounces it akin to the American Indian of the same spelling, however there is no connection to the American Apache Indian whatsoever.
The Apache Dance origins were first reported as a domestic street fight between two men and a woman in the 'Montmartre section' of Paris in the front of a night club that was indirectly responsible for the name "Apache." A local Parisian gazette journalist reported that "The fury of a riotous incident (a fight) between two men and a women rose to the ferocity of savage Apache Indians in battle." These participants, proud of their reported deed, formed "Apache Bands" which were actually street gangs that would become known as "les Apaches." These Apaches or "Gunmen of Paris" created their own type of dancing which reenacted the actions of that reported night at many "Caveau des innocents" (underworld clubs.) Historically, the Apache Dance was billed as the "Dance Of The Underworld" for very valid reasons.
There were no real steps, patterns or routines per-say, however the 'Gunmen of Paris' acted out their story in
in Pantomime which was done to Waltz or Tango music. The females were very strenuously embraced and acted out signs of fear, but at the same time devotion. Knives would be drawn by male and/or female and the women were slapped, pushed, dragged and generally thrown roughly all over the place by the ruthless, savage, violent acting male (and sometimes females,) in the essence of a domestic fight between two lovers or a pimp and his whore, and at times a jealousy spawned cat fight, etc. The dance is an intense, brutal looking dance, but is not vulgar, rather a dance of primitive passion between a man and a woman (and no the male did not always win the battle.)
While "Slumming" became popular to the upper classes during this time in Paris (Slumming became popular in the States as well in Harlem at the time) the upper classes enjoyed watching the antics of these Apache Bands and in a modified dance which would help fuel much of its social limelight. Altho briefly tried, the dance proved to be too rough for the social dance floor and remained an exhibition only dance. All tho rare, some of the ladies that danced the Apache had seriously injured themselves or even died during their performance or practice sessions with broken backs, necks etcetera, due to inexperience by some hastily attempting to cash in on it's fame or trying to make a name for themselves, which added to this dance not becoming very popular socially, altho it was tried for a short period of time. Most of these dancers were quite experienced tho and had no injuries. The clip on the lower left is from '$ Les Vampires' and shows some of the real life Apaches from France.
This dance was somewhat similar to the tango in the USA, and some folks would eventually confuse this dance with the tango in its early history of evolution. Not all dance instructors or performers could afford to go to Paris to see and / or learn this dance in it's originality and only a few actually did ... but most never saw them perform it either. So they kind of had to make it up as they went and used the Tango as a basic.
The tango does share some of the Apache and vise-a-versa still to this day. Some historians say the dance came from the Can-Can, which is very highly unlikely but has been shared on the same stage many times. The Whirlwind Waltz is reported to have many apache similarities as well. The Apache reached its highest level of acceptance in the early 1900's but soon died out and was replaced by the smoother and more graceful, and socially do-able Tango. However, the dance still had an appeal for the camera and Movie / TV makers would use the dance alot for many years after the fad had eventually died out.
Rudolph Valentino has been reported to not have really known the Tango but was an expert Apache dancer who faked the tango dance, doing instead a toned down Apache of the day, which is somewhat apparent in a few of his films (like Rogues Romance.) Mr. Joseph Smith seems to be credited with the ealy origins in the USA having imported the dance from Paris to New York around 1904. Maurice Mouvet was one of the leaders in its popularity here in the states as well. Also the Apache dance used a behind the back maneuver that would become the main step done of the Texas Tommy and Breakaway dances of the time which was used later in the Lindy Hop (aka Apache Whip in West Coast Swing) and is still used today. In 1902 Kid Foley and Sailor Lil made one of the earliest silent films about this dance called "A Tough Dance" which was the Apache Dance (See Bottom).
These "Apache Gangs" were a real and dangerous lot of criminals that took hold in Paris in the early 1900's. These Gunmen of Paris stayed in many dives called Doss Houses A kind of safe house if you will. (altho most used Knives rather than Guns, the upper ranks did use Guns called Sidis). The women folk of these gangs would usually get the attention of a tourist or guest just long enough that the male(s) Apache would strike. These Apache gangs were real bad news to unsuspecting people. The most notorious Gang in Paris to date was known as "Les Vampires".
As Upper crest society got bored, many of these gangsters found good money in hiring out their dance services for the bored female aristocrats, the more blood thirsty an Apache was known for in real life, the more money he was paid as a dance partner for an hour. The average "Apache for Hire" (Thug) made around $10 - $20 a dance or $100.00 for an hour of dancing with the real bad ones making much more. Many notorious "real Apaches" like Jules Jacques aka "The Tiger," Little Scarlip, Louis The Strangler, Raoul the Butcher learned that slitting throats was not as profitable as the re-telling of the tale to these bored, refined ... umm ... upper class ladies who craved abysmal sensations that these criminals could provide.
The 1915/1916 Film 'Les Vampires' directed by Louis Feuillade is a seven hour silent film that was made in Paris during WWI that depicts many of the real Parisian Underworld Gangs (aka: Gunmen of Paris), notably the 'Vampires Gang.' The short clip on the left is from this film and shows a snippet of one dance scene. This is not a Vampire/cult film as the name might suggest but rather a film made about the Parisian Underworld and especially a real life Apache Gang called the Vampires. There is some great Apache dance scenes of them doing the infamous Apache dance that is not a "re-created" but the real life, actual Apache dancers / gang members that were hired by the film director ... doing this dance. It is a Historically significant and excellent silent film (altho sub-titled in English) even without the Apache dance scenes. If your interested in the Apache dance or its connections, this is a must have film for you for authentic Apache stylings. It's usually not in your local stores but is available here on les Vampires DVD. ...(Thanks to Steve Ross for this films info).
"A Tough Dance" (Below is what I have, that is written about this film). Performers: Kid Foley, Sailor Lil.
Duration: 0:45 at 15 fps.
Catalog no. 2166; code name (for telegraphic orders) Garben.
NCN046352; A tough dance. DLC
Filmed June 19, 1902, at the Biograph New York City studio, perhaps on the roof.
Materials: listed originate from the paper print chosen best copy of two for digitization; for other holdings on this title, see the M/B/RS Paper Print database. DLC From either side of a white, apparently outdoors.
Setting: enter a man and woman, both wearing ragged street clothes and caps. As they approach center stage, the man grabs the woman's arm and pulls her to him, then slaps her. Still holding her arm, the man and his partner cockily strut towards the camera. The man grabs the woman in a crouched, bear-hug type of hold and they perform a rough little dance that almost seems a parody of a waltz. In a jerky type of jitterbug, the man twirls the woman out of his hold and back again (the Apache Turn), a movement which is repeated often within their spinning dance. They finally fall to the ground, still clutching each other, and roll around.
(From K.R. Niver, Early motion pictures, 1985):
Two people imitate the celebrated dance of the French apache. As the film begins, a man dressed in rough clothing approaches a woman, also dressed in tattered garments, who is standing near the center of camera position. They begin to accentuate their shoulder movements and, at the end of the film, are hitting one another and rolling about on the floor. The participants were Kid Foley and Sailor Lil, who claimed to be the champion performers of this popular Bowery dance.
Catalog no. 2166;
code name (for telegraphic orders) Garben.
A tough dance. DLC,
Filmed June 19, 1902, at the Biograph New York City studio, perhaps on the roof. The Apache Turn Explained:
The 'Apache turn" (a dance pattern) in dance is also known as a dance pattern called the "Texas Tommy" in Lindy Hop and is done in many dances still today. It has the leader facing his partner in closed position with the leader taking his left arm (her right) down and behind the back of his partner with the ladies opposite hand (right) in his, which is also bent behind her back. The leader switches hands behind her back to his right hand and twirls or unwinds her away from him till her arm extends fully as she reaches open position facing him (or sideways,) then quickly twirls or wraps her back in again or reversing the previous action to the original starting closed position. There are a few variations of the pattern as well and is quite effective in all its variations.