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Various Vintage Dance Disasters, Dancer Tragedies and Dancing Mishaps thru Time

1939: Photo of the Palomar Ballrom burning to the ground.

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  1. 1538 || Because of the sexual nature of the dance, the singing or reciting of the Sarabande (a dance), in whatsoever place, was punishable with two hundred lashes; in addition, men were given six years in the galleys, and women were exiled from the kingdom.

  1. 1638 || Mrs. Lawrence Water and a friend (Puritans) were brought up on charges by the court for 'Mixed Dancing' (dancing as a couple.)

  1. 1651 || Samuel Eaton and goodwife of New Plymouth were admonished by the court for 'mixed dancing' (dancing as a couple.) In the same year mixed or unmixed dancing was outlawed in the local Inns (taverns) and a five shilling fine would be imposed. Dancing was only allowed at the proper place and time.

  1. 1860, October 13. || At the Grand Ball held at the Academy of Music in honor of the Royal visit by the Prince of Wales in New York. Five hundred people descended on the house, more than it could hold had been 'Invited' to the affair, the new York Times (Oct. 13th, 1860) reported 'there was a loud crash and a large portion of the floor caved in, directly in front of the prince'.

  1. 1862 || Ballerina Emma Livry (1842-1862), during a rehearsal of La Muette de Portici, Livry's Ballet skirt caught fire from a gas jet, that was hanging from a piece of scenery. Although the burn had appeared superficial, she died a few days after the accident from the burns in November, 1862.

  1. 1899 || Frankie and Johnnie: reported in Saint Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1899, when well known black dancer Frankie Baker stabbed her young seventeen year-old black lover Allen Britt in her Saint Louis residence [St. Louis Dispatch, 10/20/1899]. Frankie was eventually executed for committing this crime, but the circumstances of when and how were unclear during my research. When the stabbing was changed to shooting is also unclear, Albert became Johnny, and both he and Frankie soon became legendary (Courtesy Bill Edwards.)

  1. 1908 || Fred Astaire was 'ruled off' the vaudeville stage while dancing with his older sister - Adele for being 'Under Age' (Stage Mag 1938.)

  1. 1910 || Sophie Tucker was arrested for singing the Grizzly Bear and the Wiggle Worm dance songs in a night club (stage magazine-1938.)

  1. 1910's || A Paterson, New Jersey court imposed a fifty day prison sentence on a young woman for dancing the Turkey-Trot.

  1. 1916 || Aurora, Ill., Jan. 24: Joseph E. Bishop, 22, and his bride, aged 21, were seriously hurt, and twenty guests at their wedding injured late today when a portion of the house in which the nuptial celebration was being held collapsed while the guests were dancing the tango. Bishop suffered a broken arm, sprained ankle and probable internal injuries, while his bride, who was Miss Florence Vargman, suffered severe internal injuries. Physicians say she may die. The marriage ceremony was performed in St. Michael's Church, and afterwards 100 guests assembled at a residence at 214 North Broadway for the wedding feast and dance. While twenty couples were dancing the tango on the second floor, the stairway and the portion of the floor collapsed, hurling many men, women and children to the floor below. Police removed the injured and the bride and groom were hurried in ambulances to a hospital.

  1. 1916, Nov. 13. || (ASHVILLE, NC.) ... For the pleasure of dancing the Tango, Brent Latimer of Greenville, S. C. paid the price of one eye, the sight being destroyed by a quill in the hat of the young woman with whom he was dancing. Latimer and the girl essayed the tango. In making a turn the quill swept in behind his glasses, cutting the ball of the right eye.

  1. 1920 || On July fourth in the a.m., Fifty people were killed when 200 Charleston dancers at the popular Pickwick Club in Boston, Ma. during the the 1920's got so enthusiastic that the vibrations made the whole dance floor collapse!.

  1. 1920's || Prohibition: In Brooklyn, twelve people died from drinking wood alcohol during prohibition.

  1. 1925 || Rudolph Valentino's wife Natasha Rambova was banned from the set of 'The Eagle' in 1925, for causing problems while Valentino was filming. (jealousy I think?).

  1. 1927 || A Dance Marathon was shut down due to 60 dancers collapsing in a dance marathon after only 20 hours. Los Angeles Herald - 4/22/1927

  1. 1927/9/14 || While her Chauffer was teaching her to drive while she rode as a passenger in her new car, Modern Dance pioneer Isadora Duncan is strangled in Nice, France, when her enormously long neck red silk scarf she was wearing was whipping back and forth in the open air, it gets tangled in the front hubcap of the cars front wheel as she traveled on the 'promenade des anglais.' As it wound around the cars front axle, it tightened quickly and tightly around Duncan's neck, quickly dragging her from out of the cars front seat and onto the cobblestone street before the car could come to a stop. She died instantly of a broken neck, almost decapitated. She was 50 years old. (how horrible)

  1. 1929/12/10 || Pathe Motion Picture Exchange and Manhattan Studios, Inc., (New York) caught fire while shooting a musical revue ('Black and White revue'). While the dancers where on stage dancing 'an electrician saw a spectacular flash and one of the dancers on the stage cried 'Fire!.' A black velvet curtain had caught fire as the result, there were seven explosions in all. Many escaped unhurt, but 10 perished in the flames, suffocated, trapped, or trampled to death, four were chorus dancers ... the youngest was a 16 year old dancer named Catherine Porter (trapped). Many historic films were lost to the flames and the building destroyed. There was upwards of 100 people working in the building that day. (photo of all 4 girls here)

  1. 1930's || Bonnie and Clyde were first spotted at a 'swing dance.' Bonnie and Clyde were dancing a very good Jitterbug and were noticed by fellow dancers, one individual recognized them as being wanted by the law and had the police called on them. That night marked the start of them running from the law.

  1. 1930's || During the filming of 'Shall We Dance' with Fred Astaire at RKO Pictures Corp. The expensive set that was to be used in over half the movie caught fire. George, Astaire's valet went to the fire chief to be allowed to enter the charred remains, as it was imperative he enter the ruins. As the chief and George argued vigorously, George persuaded the chief to allow him to enter the burnt ruins... he returned within his possession ... none other than,... Fred Astaire's tap shoes ...:)

  1. 1930's || Judy Garland was fired from the film 'Annie Get your Gun.'

  1. 1936 || At the Paramount Theater in New York, The Fire department was called in to check the safety of the balcony, because many of the high school kids were dancing the Jitterbug in the aisles of the balcony to Benny Goodman and his Orchestra.

  1. 1938 || The famous Dalcroze Dance Institute near Dresden, Germany was closed down in 1938 when Hitler invaded Austria.

  1. 1939/10/2 || The famous Palomar Ballroom (California) catches on fire and burns to the ground, due to faulty wiring with the Band setting up. (see photo, upper left)

  1. 1940's || Shake dancer, Princess DePaur was injured and paralyzed from the waist down when kicked in the rear while doing a 'Torrid' dance routine with her partner that they used to perform.

  1. 1942 || A devastating fire killed over 500 dancers at the Coconut Grove Ballroom in Boston, MA. on November 27th. A patron had unscrewed a light bulb to become more cozy with his date and a waiter, who couldn't see lit a match to redo the bulb, this action caused the fire. It was unknown for many years as to why it spread so quickly, but was later found out a Methyl Chloride gas (highly flammable) was used to fill the air conditioner's freon tank. This was due to the shortage of freon during the war.

  1. 1951/7/5 || Burlesque Queen and Stripper Lil St. Cyr's act at the Gayety's Theater in Montreal, Canada was reported to be so torrid that patrons rushed for the fire escape, supposedly to cool off, when she concluded her dance. As a result, one man is killed and three others injured when part of the fire escape collapses.

  1. 1953 || Actress Sheree North broke her foot doing the Shimmy during the Jitterbug scene in the movie 'Living It Up!' with Jerry Lewis.

  1. 1970/3/22 || A small bomb, reportedly planted by a member of the Black Panther Party exploded on the dance floor of the' Electric Circus Disco' in Manhattan, New York on March 22, 1970, injuring fifteen people, the negative publicity accelerated the decline of the club; it closed a year and a half later. According to an AP news story that appeared in the Toledo Blade on March 31, 1970, the Black Panther Party denied any connection to the student, Ishmael Brown, who reportedly planted the bomb. *

  1. 11/25/83 || Burlesque dancer Carol Doda (Teresa Hill) was found pinned under her trick Baby Grand Piano and her Boyfriend (James 'Jimmy the Beard' Ferrozzo). Seems they were heavily drinking and the trick Piano that Doda comes down to the stage on suddenly rose to the ceiling while the two were on top of it. The boyfriend was found dead. ... Police reported that: "A nude, screaming dancer found trapped under a man's crushed body on a trick piano that became pinned against a nightclub ceiling was too drunk to remember how she got there, police said."

  1. 2004/5/22 || Dessi Espana - Circus performer with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, who performed aerial acrobatics with twirling chiffon cloth at 35 feet in the air without a net, who once held the world record for twirling 75 hula hoops while appearing on the TV show 'Live With Regis and Kathie Lee', fell to her death on May 22 in front of a horrified audience in St. Paul, Minnesota while performing her act. She was 32 years old.
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