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Texas TommyDance History Title   The Texas Tommy... is said by many to be the first swing dance. The main reason being is that during this period(1909), all the couples dances were done in "closed position," while the Texas Tommy was supposedly the first modern couples dance of the time to include the "break-away" step(energetically dancing from closed to open position and back) while using the basic 8 count rhythm of swing dance.

   The dance is described by many who were alive during the time as a rough Lindy Hop style, only with a different starting pattern (Stearns book gives a pretty good insight to the dance). The basic footwork was a Kick and a Hop three times on each foot. Imagine using a modern 6 count timing, it might have been something like: 1-2&3 = Kick-step-step-step = Lt-Lt-Rt-Lt - repeat other foot 4-5&6 (also see 8 count at bottom.) After these steps were done, dancers did the Break-Away step and did what ever they wanted to do, Most times the dancers did a Shuffle Step and swayed back and forth, then back to the basic

step again. The Break-Away is described as pretty forceful during the time, as their were  acrobatics with the "throwing of their partners around" involved at times. Stearns also writes that this dance was done many times with 4 to 6 couples at a time.

   Many dance bands of the day would travel the "band circuit" from San Francisco thru Mississippi to Kentucky, New Orleans etc., and end in New York and then start back again. The first written record was in San Francisco, California in1909. Many dance bands or composers of the day would write dance music that had the directions for doing the dance in the verses, such as the Maxixe, Texas Tommy, Bunny Hug, Grizzly Bear, Turkey Trotetc. At the time, many Composer / Musicians would look for a new dance to write a song about.

   The "Fairmont Hotel" in San Francisco is written to have given birth to the Texas Tommy, which may or may not be true but did have a house band that regularly played the Texas Tommy music and was a major place to be for dancing. Dancers from Lew Purcell's would dance the Texas Tommy and make it popular in San Francisco, many of these dancers would bring some of the dances with them to the Fairmont, which was the swankiest Hotel and ballroom at the time. Anyone who was anyone could be found at the Fairmont doing all the latest dances.

   Who originated the Texas Tommy is obscure, but most likely it was being done and someone capitalized upon it. Some say "Johnny Petersand his partner Mary Dewsen, " two African-Americans, brought the dance to San Francisco in 1911 from the South... but exactly where, they don't say. Peters and Ethel Williams became partners in 1912 and after Dewsen became ill, Williams replaced her in Al Jolsons troupe. Williams and Peters danced in contests all over the country and especially New York City and the Barbary Coast, winning many contest dancing the One-Step, Maxixe, Tango and Texas Tommy, etc., they were masters of the Tommy and reportedly danced it regularly at the Fairmont when in town.

   The Broadway musical entitled "The Darktown Follies" held at the "Lafayette Theater," Harlem in 1913 had a performance by Ethel Williams dancing with Peters along with some other performers, performing a dance called the "Texas Tommy." The dance was a huge success of the show, only bested by the group Circle dance by the cast. However her written performance mentioned earlier supersedes this date of it originating here as has been written (Note: "Ballin' The Jack" was also introduced in this Musical.)

   Another dance called the "Apache Dance" used a "Break-away" ... the most popular pattern in the Apache was a "Behind the Back turn" (pattern), most people to this day call this pattern the "Texas Tommy" in the Lindy Hop or "Apache Whip/Turn" in West Coast Swing, so the older Apache Dance may have had something to do with the Texas Tommy... as the Apache was popular around 1903 and the Apache was really the first couples dance to use the break-away pattern described above.

   Tommy by the way was a slang term for a "Trench or Foot Soldier" in the 1890-1910's, which the song title could be saying Texas Soldier. A 'Texas' Tommy is said to be a female prostitute who also worked the trenches and/ or walked the streets in the early 1900s.  

   The Texas Tommy may go all the way back to the Civil War... however unlikely; There was a famous black dancer named "Tom from Palestine, " Texas, that was known for "putting a glass of water on his head and making his feet go like trip-hammers and sounding something like a snare drum," he would "whirl around and such" while all his movements were from the "waist down, without spilling a drop of water." He was known as "The Jigginest fellow ever was" (sounds like Juba .) Although this does not sound like a swing dance and obviously more directly a Tap/Clog/Jig dancer because he danced by himself, and was probably doing a form of Jig or Buck dancing, he may have later had something to do with the rhythms and such but doubtful. Another may have been in east Texas, by a well known Blues Pioneer "Ragtime Texas Henry" Thomas who in the late 1800's played at many "Juke Joints" along the way to his fame.

People who claimed its creation:

  1. "Johnny Peters" is claimed by Marshall/ Stearns. "Dutch Mike and Stella Johnson" are reported to be the originators and invented the Texas Tommy Swing (2/18/1912 Oakland Tribune).
  2. "Max Goldsmith and Phil Freuise" tried to get a copyright on the dance claiming themselves as creators.
  3. A dance group called "Davis and Matthews" claimed they created many of the steps (but not the actual dance) for the Texas Tommy around 1909/10 and were hired to bring a group of dancers to the Winter Garden's "Whirl of Society" and do the Texas Tommy dance (1/28/1912 article of the Fort Wayne Daily News, page 3).
  4. Val Harris was reported to be the "Originator in the Court hearings on banning the dance in San Francisco - She was present for support of the dance (2/28/1912 - Modesto News)
  5. Val Harris was reported to be the "Originator in the Court hearings on banning the dance in San Francisco - She was present for support of the dance (2/28/1912 - Modesto News).

    1) Also, there was a dance called "Come To Me Tommy" which allowed dancers to dance real close, around 1912? (possible relation? ... dunno.)
    2) In B.F. Keith's Programme for his shows (Vaudeville Bill), writing about the "upcoming attractions on Sept., 13, 1916", it states in one actors description that "Even overseas in the trenches the tommies sing". (never seen this word used this way in a dance program except for there, could have meant a Soldier). Probably no relation, but thought you might find it interesting?
    3) 10th Annual Rexall Drug Convention (A Smokers Convention) held Sept. 17-20, 1912. in St. Louis at the St. Louis Coliseum featured Texas Tommy Dancers.

Birth Place

Creation Date


Dance Type

San Francisco, CA. (also the South) 1909? Dutch Mike and Shelly Ragtime / Swing

Posters, Lobby Cards etc.

"Tommy" Sheet Music Covers

Music Titles

n/a 1910 - Texas Prance? 1912 - Texas Tommy (Maxwell)
  1910 - That Mississippi Mooch (Hyerta Pryme) 1913 - At The Yiddish Cabaret
  Come to Me Tommy 1913 - Texas Tommy
  Texas Tommy Swing 1917 - Tommy (James Darewski)
  Teal Texas Tommy 1911 - Texas Tommy Swing (same clip as above but this song added) [Click to see Clip | Full Song ]
  Chanticleer Ephraim's Brass Band Jones
    Texas Tommy Swing
    Texas Shuffle ? (Possible)
    Texas Chatter ? (Possible)
    Blues For Tommy ? (Possible)

Night Clubs, Hotels



Bustonaby's Cabaret Alhambra Theatre (1913) Barbary Coast (San Francisco)
Fairmont Hotel (S.F.) Bell Theatre (1912 Dutch and Stella) San Francisco
Lew Purcell's Empress Theatre (7/1916 Chinese dancers) Mississippi
      Englert Theatre (1917) New York
      Isis Airdome (1914) New Orleans
      Lafayette Theatre (1913) Washington, DC.
      Lyceum Theatre (11/1911) NY  
      Majestic Theatre (1912) All Through out California
      Strand Theatre (1913)  
      Winter Garden (1912)  


Ballets / Stage

1914 - Fatty's Magic Pants 1910 ? - Whirl of Society (Winter Garden)
1911 - Texas Tommy Reel 11/1911 - A Million For A Nose (Lyceum - Lady Buccaneers)
  1912 - Rexall Convention
  1912 - Sit Up and Take Notice (Dutch and Stella - Bell Theatre)
  1912 - Ziegfeld Follies (every wife / At The Ball)
  1913 - Darktown Follies
  1913 - Sunnyside of Broadway (Max Blooms)
  1916 - A Night In China Town
  1917 - Good Night Broadway (Englert Theatre)
  1927 - Old San Francisco


Newspaper Publications

n/a 11/5/1911 - Washington Post (see them all do the TX Tommy)
  1/6/1912 - Washington Post (TxTom has Shuffle plus Turky Trot)
  1/28/1912 - Fort Wayne Daily News (Davis & Matthews)
  1/28/1912 - Nevada State Journal (Tex Tommy at Majestic)
  2/4/1912 - Oakland Tribune (Texas Tommy: Hitch and Kick)
  2/16/1912 - Reno Evening Gazette (Texas Tommy Copyright refused to Max Goldsmith & Phil Freuse)
  2/22/1912 - Oakland Tribune (Texas Tommy is Decent)
  5/13/1912 - Oakland Tribune (Blanche Bates - Barefoot)
  6/21/1912 - Oakland Tribune (Dance Causes War)
  10/7/1912 - Oakland Tribune (Chinese Tex Tommy Dancer a Hit)
  1/30/1913 - Fort Wayne Daily News (What's a Texas Tommy)
  5/3/1913 - Fort Wayne Sentinel (Tommy Originated on Barbary Coast)
  5/13/1913 - Alaska Citizen (Texas Tommie by Joe Morrow)
  12/28/1913 - Syracuse Herald
  11/19/1915 - Englewood Times - (Texas Tommie)
  7/26/1916 - Fort Wayne Daily News (Chinese Dancers)
  9/1927- Boardwalk Illustrated News
  ? - Down Beat Magazine

Other Related Dances of the time...

Apache Dance Collegiate .... Kangaroo Hop Savoy Style
Balboa Come to me Tommy (?) Lame Duck Shag
Ballin' the Jack Eagle Rock Lindy Hop Shimmy
Black Bottom East Coast Swing Maxixe Shivers, the
Big Apple Fish Tail Mooch & Sugar Suzy Q
Break Away Fish Walk One Step Tango
Bunny Hug Fox Trot Ostende, the Texas Prance
Buzzard Lope Glides (Gaby, Wish Wash, Sea Sick, Gilda etc) Peabody Tiger, the
Cakewalk Grapevine, the Peckin' Truckin'
Camel Walk Grizzly Bear Polka Turkey Trot
Castle Walk Horse Trot Push Two Step
Charleston Jitterbug Quickstep Waltz
  Jive Reno Glide (1913)  

Dancers, Choreographers etc.


Bankoff and Girlie (1913 Alhambra Theatre) Lee Chandlers 'American Ginger Girls' (1912) n/a
Blanche Bates (SF 1912 - Danced it Barefoot) Mary Dewson (1912)  
Bobby Roberts (Englert Theatre 1917) Minta Durfee-Arbuckle (1909)  
California Poppies* (a TT Troupe) Minnie Hawke (1912)  
Carmelita McDonald (SF 1912) Nettie Compton (1912)  
Carmen Beck (SF 1912) Pet Bob Thurman (1913) fastest of them all!  
Davis and Matthews (1909) Texas Tommy Dancers (a TT Troupe)  
Dutch Mike and Stella Johnson (1912) Valerie Harris (1912 San Francisco)  
Elsie Martin (SF 1912) Vernon and Irene Castle (1914)  
Ethel Williams (1912) Will Mastin* (1913)  
Fatty Arbuckle (1909) Willie Covan  
Hither Charlotte Henderson (1912)    
Jack Roberts "Chinese Texas Tommy Dancers" (1916)    
Joe Morrow & Dr. McGinnis (1912)    
Johnny Peters (1911)    

Books, Magazine Articles on the dance...





Dances of Today Newman, Albert W. 1913 Penn
Bohemian San Francisco (It. Rest. Famous Recipes) Clarence C. Edwards, Paul Elder 1914 n/a
Down Memory Lane Murray, Arthur 1954 Greenberg
$ Jazz Dance: Story of Vernacular Dance Stearns, Marshall & Jean 1968 Macmillan
Dancing... P. P. A. of Movement Jonas, Gerald 1935 Abrams
The Magic Of Dance Fonteyn, Margot 1979 Knopf
Dancing...New Edition Jacobs, Ellen 1981 Variety Arts
Black Dance Thorpe, Edward 1990 Overlook Press



Poets / Writers

Buck Clayton Vera Maxwell (1912 - Ziegfeld) Val Harris
Sid Brown        
Von Tilzer        

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

Chanticleer Johnny Peters King Chanticleer Suggestive Dances
Fatty Arbuckle Juke / Juke Joint Prostitute Hitch and Kick
Hop (as in dance movement) Kick Dance "Uujbee" (Meaning?) Nickle Dance Halls
Wiggle Dance Freak Dance Tough Dancing Tenderloin Dance Halls


Basic Step:
Kick, and Hop, Hop, Hop on the same foot. Done in closed position,
then the couples would "Break-away" from each other and back together again. breakdown as follows:
1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
Kick Hop Hop Hop Kick Hop Hop Hop
<- Left Left Left Left Right -> Right Right Right
Kick -- Hop -- Hop -- Hop -- Kick -- Hop -- Hop -- Hop. (note: followers start with right foot).
add a break-away, do the Georgia Grind, and wiggle the hips, (the woman dancing provocatively) and a few improvised steps and you have the Texas Tommy.

From Newman's Book-1913:
Dancers start in 'Closed Position'.
1) Leaders = Glide Left Foot to side, (Followers start with Right Foot)
2-3-4) Raise R. F. a little to rear, and hop three times on the L. F.; in this position count-2-3-4, turning to the right.
Repeat same with the R. F., continuing the turn, one measure.
(This is virtually a skating movement and should be made with a slight bend on the first step. The hops should be made softly and the raised foot held not too high).
Glide L. F. to side (1), hop on it with R. F. raised slightly (2); same with R. F. to right (3) (4). This is a Barn Dance Step.
Four short running steps forward L. F. (1), R. F. (2), L. F. (3), R. F. (4).
Repeat the entire dance, turning to the left also.

Great care should be taken not to exaggerate the hops, and to turn quite around in the skating movement.
There are a number of arrangements of the Texas Tommy, but none more suitable for ballroom purpose than this.
Music:"Ephraim's Brass Band Jones," or the song "Texas Tommy Swing," or any schottische with a good swing. 4-4 tempo. end Newman! end of paraphrase. (Note: interesting - actual use of the words "Swing" here in 1913).
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