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Buddy Bradley demonstrating "Ballin' the Jack" circa: 1927 dance History Ballin the Jack Title

        Ballin' the Jack is basically just a sensual, gyration dance with bumps and grinds. Notorious in its day, it was done as a solo dance or along with swing dancing. It's first public appearance was in 1913 at the Lafayette Theater in Harlem, the play was called "The Darktown Follies" produced by Leubrie Hill in the first act called "At The Ball, That's All." Florence Ziegfeld loved it so much he purchased the rights and used it in his Follies of 1913.

    In 1913 dancer and composer Chris Smith wrote the song titled "Ballin' The Jack," based on a Negro song that was becoming a dance fad across the nation with white America. Most people think of Ballin' the Jack as a swing variant such as the Big Apple and Truckin'. However in the early 1900's, it was a dance all in its own. When it merged with the Lindy Hop, it lost most of its original form and became just a sidekick to swing dance such as pictured on left.

    There are stories that 'Ballin' the Jack' was sung by the African-Americans while laying rail for the rail road companies in the 1890's. The "Jack" was a common name for a locomotive (the jackass carrying the load), and Ballin' was the trainmen's hand gestures to 'Highball it' or "High Balling" which means, "faster or to have fun." a side note:
The vintage 'Little Wonder Records' had the title of 'Ballin' The Jack' in 1909. The last patent date listed on the record is 11/30/1909.

Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

USA (song: 1909/1913) | (dance: c.1899) African-Americans Swing

Music Titles

1913 - Ballin' The Jack (Charlie Kunz) Ballin' the Jack song clips: Ann Sothern | Annette Funicello | Art Hodes | Brenda Lee | Big Bill Bissonnette | Billie Holiday | Billie Lee Riley | Buck Clayton | Chicago Footwarmers | Chordettes | Chubby Checker | Chet Atkins | Danny Kaye | Dean Martin/Polly | Delta Rhythm Kings | Dick Van Dyke | Dixie All-Stars | Eddie Cantor | Eddie Skoller | Fats Domino | Frank Sinatra | Georgia Gibbs | Henry Red Allen | Jelly Roll Morton | Jimmy McPartland | Kelly/Garland | Kid Ory | Lawrence Welk | Les Brown | Lizzie Miles | Louisianna Rhythm Kings | Lucky Roberts | Master Blasters | Miff Mole | Nat'l Promenade Band | Osmonds | Papa Blues | Pearl Bailey | Perez Prado | Prince's Band | Red Nichols | Steve Jankowski | Three Suns | Victor Military Band | Virginia Ruth | Willie The Lion Smith |
1914 - Ballin' The Jack (Prince's Band)
1915 - Ballin' The Jack (Little Wonder Disc)
1916 - Pray For The Lights To Go Out
1920 - Dance-O-Mania
1982 - Ball The Jack (Passport)
Ballin' The Jack [MP3] (Danny Kaye)
Bark, Battle and Ball ?
Come, Come, I Love You Dearly
Darktown Strutters Ball (mentions Ballin' the jack)
I Feel So Good
Old Man Blues [MP3] (Big Head)
Rhumba Boogie (mentions Ballin the Jack) Hank Snow
St. Louis Blues
Stop It Joe (James P. Johnson)
(Your Some) Pretty Doll - Eddie Condon

Night Clubs



Most Clubs 1913 - Lafayette Theatre Mississippi
Cotton Club 1915 - The Palace - London New Orleans
Renaissance Ballroom Ziegfeld's New Amsterdam Theatre New York
Savoy Ballroom 1953 - Palace Theater (d. Kaye) San Francisco

Video Clips



Ballets / Stage

Clip Not Available 1926 - That's My Baby 1950 - Broadway Open House (Virginia Ruth) 1913 - Darktown Follies
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1942 - For Me and My Gal [DVD] 1954 - Dupont (Jazz Dance) w/Leon James & Minns 1914 - Girl from Utah**
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1951 - On The Riviera (Danny Kaye) 1954 - Milton Berle Show 1915 - Passing Show
Viewable thru a Youtube Video Pop-up window.
1951 - That's My Boy (Lewis/Martin) 1955 - Lawrence Welk Show
Clip Not Available 1986 - Haunted Honeymoon (Radner/Deluise) 1960s - Lawrence Welk Jack Imel and Mary Lou Metzger


Clip Not Available 10/7/1971 - Dean Martin Show (w/Bing Crosby) 9/1927 - Dance Magazine*
Clip Not Available Down Beat Magazine

Other Related Dances of the time...

Apache Dance Cakewalk Grizzly Bear Sewin' The Rice
Baltimore Buzz Camel Walk Hippohop Shimmy
Bamboula Castle Walk Jazz Dance Slow Drag
Big Apple Charleston Lame Duck Suzy-Q
Black Bottom Collegiate ... Lindy Hop Texas Tommy
Boll Weevil Wiggle Double Twis' Low Down Truckin'
Break-Away Eagle Rock Mooch and Sugar Turkey Trot
Breakdown Frisco, the Peelin' The Peach Varsity Drag
Bunny Hug Gaby Glide Savoy

Dancers, Choreographers etc.

Sheet Music Covers

Alice Palmer (Whitman) Donald Brian** 1912 - Messin' Around (Perry Bradford)
Arria Hatahaway and Joe McShane (1913) Ethel Williams 1913 - Ballin' the Jack (Smith)
Buddy Bradley Liebolt and Carmencita (1913) 1913 - Ballin' the Jack (Smith)
Chris Smith Miss Elsie Janis  (1913) $ At The Ball... (fast)
Danny Kaye Sonia Baraban and Charles C. Groths (1913) Ballin the Blues (Ellington)
Liebolt and Carmencita (1913) Ballin' the Jack (Kaye)
Sonia Baraban and Charles C. Groths (1913) Ballin' the Jack (Martin-Lewis)
Ballin' the Jack (Morton)

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...



Date Published


$ Jazz Dance: Am. Vernacular Dance Stearns, Marshal 1998 DaCapo Press
$ Spreadin' Rhythm Around Jasen, David A. 1998 Schirmer Books




Poets / Writers

Duke Ellington Chris Smith 1914 - Joseph Sterns Elise Marcus* (w)
"Jelly Roll" Morton 1948 - Georgia Gibbs
Prince's Orchestra (1913) 1950s - Danny Kaye
Chubby Checker
Fats Domino
J. Garland & G. Kelly
Perez Prado (Mambo Mania LP - RCA records #LPM-1075)

Misc. Research Words that may be related ... to help your searches

Chris Smith / Jim Burris High Ball Locomotive / Train Engineer Low Down
Field Hollers Juke Joint Work Hollers / Songs Love Making (Big Bill Bronzy)

Basic Step: (Dance Magazine 9/1927):
Hands placed on bent knees. The knees move in a crescent path, going from side to side, in a mere suggestion of a curve.

Basic Step: (From Sheet Music Lyrics):
First you put your knees together, close up tight,
Then you sway 'em to left , then you sway 'em to the right... (a Modified Grind)
Step around the floor kind of nice and light, ... (implies a Cat Walk?)
Then you twis' around, and twis' around with all your might, ... (A Hip Roll)
Style and Grace, Swing your foot way round, then bring it back,
Now that's what I call Ball-in the Jack.
Then you do the Eagle Rock with style and grace, ... (see note below)
Swing your foot way'round then bring it back,
Now that's what I call Ballin' the Jack"...

Note: Eagle Rock is a dance movement with outstretched arms in a wing like manner, while the body sways back and forth like a gliding bird and head back. Ballin' is short for "Balling" (the Jack).