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The Skirt Dance

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Photo of the Butterfly Skirt dance, circa 1894 from Foremans Book
The Skirt Dance

   Skirt dancing was a very popular Vaudeville form of Ballet steps and acrobatic kicks performed in a flouncy skirt that would show just enough leg to keep the male spectators interested. Kate Vaughn (c.1870s,) according to Johnston's book; "created the skirt dance at the original Gaiety Theater around 1876." It was from the time of that ever-memorable four, known to all as "The Gaiety Quartette," namely, Edward Terry, E. W. (Teddy) Royce, Kate Vaughn, and Nellie Farren, when Kate Vaughan revolutionized the stage world by her long-skirted dancing. Some books cited it as the "Twentieth Century Skirt Dance" which actually was a variation of the Skirt Dance.

   Thousands came to see Kate dance her new art form. Kate Vaughan and Miss. Alice Lethbridge were said to be one of the best skirt dancers of all time. Dancers prior to Kate, wore the conventional Italian wardrobe to dance (ballet), this "costume" hampered many dancers abilities, the new form or skirt dance relieved this burden. The skirt was the main theme in the dance, but proper arm styling was almost as important. The dance consists of kicking, hopping, gliding, posing and turning, similar to the ballet of the times.

   Much of the grace, too, of skirt-dancing depended upon the body-postures, and on the perfect balance that is so necessary to a good dancer. In fact, many of the most difficult movements were only possible to those who possessed this gift of balancing to a marked degree, while even the ordinary movements were much beautified and added to in grace by those with an obvious facility of balance. It was to this additional power that much of the skill and success of Miss Alice Lethbridge is due, and many of the movements which made her name famous, such as the wonderful revolving movement of which she was said to be the sole mistress, are in a great measure dependent on it.

   This revolving movement was one which Lethbridge first introduced in a dance when playing the part of Pepita in "Little Christopher Columbus" at the Lyric Theater. She has given to it no special name, merely calling it the "waltz movement," as it is in this form of dance that she has been in the habit of introducing it; but it is an open secret that many have tried to imitate her in it without success. The movement itself consists of, while still dancing the ordinary waltz, suddenly bending the body backwards, till it is almost at a right angle, and in this position slowly rotating the body around its own axis, making all the correct steps of the dance, and moving round in a big circle the whole time. The swaying of the body in slow time to the rapid movements of the feet, and the effect of the waving skirts, lend an air of grace to the dance such as has seldom been equaled. One of the critics at the time wrote: "Lethbridge looked like a big white poppy in that ceaseless revolving movement round such a large circle, and the amateur wondered how the dancer could possibly preserve her balance."

   Lethbridge's dancing in "Little Christopher Columbus" was one of the sensations of the theatrical year, and from that time her name was assured, though even earlier, when little more than a child, her dancing in "Mynheer Jan" at the Comedy Theatre had caused her to be declared by many critics the finest dancer on the stage, since Kate Vaughn had some years before retired from the field of Burlesque. All her dancing shows great knowledge of both the practical and theoretical sides of the art, and she is without doubt the most graceful exponent of dancing we now have.

   The dance consists of the start which was called the "Come On," the dance continues with Forward, Side and Backwards movements. There are Paddle Steps, Leaps, Hops, Kicks, Coupes, Bouree's, Jete's etc. Music was usually in 4/4 time. This dance could and is also used as a children's play dance, albeit, less the erotic movements of course.

There were different variations of the Skirt Dance such as the Butterfly Skirt dance (pictured), Society Skirt Dance, 20th. Century Skirt dance as well as dance that were similar like the La Manola and Cloak dance.

   The La Manola was a Spanish skirt dance to a SLOW Spanish 3/4 tempo. It was created by F.C. Notts for his daughter for his exhibition given at the Gate City Guards' Armory, Atlanta, GA., May 18, 1891. The music used was "Landers' Manola Waltz." The costume for the La Manola dance was Shoes, hose, trunks, one silk under waist, all same color, dress skirt, silk, for girl 14 years old or over, 60 feet around the bottom, Empire waist, widths cut in umbrella-shaped pieces, puts the goods at the bottom, where it is wanted, and only requires half the material to get the 60 feet at bottom that it would in any other kind of skirt. The under skirt should be not less than 30 feet. Notts says 'Wait in wings for introduction, 8 bars' before going on.


Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

Gaiety Theatre 1876 Kate Vaughn Stage Dance

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

Sheet Music Covers

Music Titles

n/a La Manola In A Den

Night Clubs



n/a 1894-5- Foreman Hall England
  10/19/1890 - Palace Museum (4 gaiety Skirt Dancers) France
  Comedy Theater USA
  Gaiety Theater  
  Lyric Theater  
  Strand Music Hall  

Related Films


Ballets / Stage

1894 - Serpentine Dance n/a Little Christopher Columbus
1898- Butterfly Dance       Faust
$ What is New       Mynheer Jan


      6/29/1895 - Truth Mag

Other Related Dances of the time...

20th Century Skirt Dance Can Can Fan Dance Schottische(rhythm)
Ballet Cloak Dance Flag Dance (1898) Serpentine Dance
Belly Dancing Dance of Andalucia Mirror Dance Seven Veils
Bubble Dance Dance of Emotions Peek-A-Boo Dance Shawl Dance (1830s)
Burlesque Dance of the Devil Salome Society Skirt Dance
Butterfly Dance Dance Of The Veils Scarf Dance Striptease
Butterfly Skirt Dance      

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


1878 - Kate Vaughn 1900's - Loie Fuller n/a
1880s - Letty Lind 1900s - Ruth St. Dennis  
1880s - Miss Alice Lethbridge 1905 - Topsy Sinden  
1880s - Nellie Farren 1900? - Kate Seymour (England)  
1890s - Miss Sylvia Grey Lottie Collins  
1890s - Crissie Sheridan Marie Leyton  
1890s Annabella Ameta (1890s)  

Books, Articles on the dance...

Title Author Date Publisher
Illustrated portfolio of artistic dancing Foreman, H. A., Mrs.
1894 Peaslee Bros
Stage and Fancy Dancing Nott, F.C. 1896 J.M Wright (Ohio)
Clendenen's treatise on elementary and classical dancing Clendenen, F. Leslie 1903 Instructor publishing co
A History Of Dancing Johnson, Reginald S. 1905 Simpkin... Kent & Co.
Modern Dancing and Dancers Flitch, J. E. Crawford 1912 J. B. Lippincott Company
Dancing..the P.P.A. of movement Jonas, Gerald 1992 Abrams



Poets / Writers

n/a n/a n/a

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

Ballet Gaiety Quartet Stage Dancing ??
Burlesque Quartette Vaudeville    


November 20, 2012