Most historians agree that the Turkey Trot was invented in San Francisco around 1909, but some have reported that it came from Central America in the 1860's (unlikely).
It has been said that dancers John Jarrott and Louise Gruenning introduced this dance as well as the Grizzly Bear at Ray Jones Cafe' in Chicago, IL. around 1909. The name Turkey Trot relating to dancing goes back further to 1895 in the song "Pas Ma La" where the dancer is urged to got to the World's Fair and do the Turkey Trot dance, so its probably a folk dance that became a Ragtime Dance later.
The Turkey Trot was not a very graceful dance, but is considered one of the first of the so called animal dances to catch on with the
public. The Trot was basically a face to face dance (meaning: not danced off to the side of each other like the Peabody,) taking one step on each beat of music, while holding her tightly around the waist or 'hugging' as it was called back then. While dancing the Turkey Trot, dancers would sway to and fro, going in a straight line around the floor, while occasionally "Pumping or Flapping" of the arms was encouraged, thus giving the name of the Turkey Trot. Occasionally the man would let go of the lady and dance behind her, and on occasion add a little hop or skip in the step.
Many people as well as whole communities thought of the Turkey Trot as demoralizing and or sexually suggestive and tried "Bans" on the dance but this only added to it's popularity, even the Castles tried to eliminate this dance from society in 1914, even tho it was this very dance that gave the Castle's their first break in the dance business.
A few examples:
1) on July 22, 1913, written in a dance card from the Exposition Park dancing pavilion in Conneaut Lake, PA. it was written that "the Bear Dance (Grizzly Bear) and Turkey Trot would not be tolerated."
2) A Paterson, New Jersey court imposed a fifty day prison sentence on young women for doing the Turkey Trot.
3) 15 Women were fired from a well known magazine for doing the Turkey-Trot during their lunch break, and there are many more stories like these such as the Vatican's official's issue of disapproval.
However, the music was fun to listen too and made you move your feet and most of all was a fun shameful dance to do in that day of time. As with most dances, if the average dancer could dance to it, it would become popular with the masses and the musical breaks were easy to master. The Turkey Trot allowed you to dance very close to your partner (hugging), unlike the old Waltz were dancers kept a proper distance and was not hard to do.
In his book "The modern dance" by Ham, he writes:
"the Houston Chronicle reported: "Turkey Leg" is the newest disease. It gets its name because it comes from "turkey trotting" too much. High society, the kind that dwells in Newport, has it. Houston, if it turkey trots too much, may get it. And Houston mothers as well as Newport mothers have of recent date become worried. Doctors to the turkey trotting rich say that the only cure is to shake your leg or get it pulled several times daily. The cause is that turkey trotters trot mostly on one leg. This shortens and cramps one leg, causing pains and aches. Hence the doctors and the "shakes" and pulls. Another worry is the "split" bathing skirt. They have appeared in force at Newport and a few dared the surf at Galveston. One in brilliant Red, much slashed, was at the Breakers last Sunday. Next Sunday The Chronicle will print a full page story illustrated in colors about the new "Turkey Leg" illness and the split skirt." (note: they were jokingly printing this article.)
Most couples dances of the time had some kind of animal name attached to it (thought to make it successful) such as the Bunny Hug, Horse Trot, Buzzard Lope and Grizzly Bear to name a few. In Germany they called it (trots) the "Truthahn Tanz," and in France it was the "Pas fiu Dindon". The Turkey Trot was replaced by the Fox Trot in 1914.
During the dance fad craze of the 1960's dances such as the Twist, Swim, Mashed Potato etc. where huge and there was an abundance of dances, some old, some remakes of others. The Turkey Trot was no exception, altho this version was done freestyle as you can see in this little Eva clip "The Turkey Trot". Watch the both sets of dancers in the background. Arms played a big role, positions, as well as the legs.