This blog post was co-written with Jan McKee, Reference Librarian, Recorded Sound Section, Library of Congress.
This year, after Thanksgiving dinner with friends and family, why not burn off some of those calories and thwart those tryptophans by dancing the Turkey Trot instead of sleeping on the living room sofa? This vigorous dance was developed on the West Coast in about 1909. Then Irene and Vernon Castle raised its popularity by dancing it in the Broadway show The Sunshine Girl. It was one of a number of animal-inspired, fast-paced ragtime dances that shocked and offended polite society in the early years of the twentieth century.
In 1913, President-elect Woodrow Wilson, so fearing a scandal if people danced the Turkey Trot at his inaugural ball, opted not to have a ball and held a public reception in the Capitol instead. It was banned at the Naval Academy that same year.
According to information contained in several dance manuals in the Music Division online exhibit, the Turkey Trot was condemned by the Vatican. Archbishop Henry Moeller announced that Catholics in the Cincinnati diocese who dance the Tango, Turkey Trot and other objectionable glides could not obtain forgiveness of their sins. In Montclair, N. J., clergyman, Rev. Father Wm. A. Brothers, declared that “indulgence in the turkey trot, the tango and other objectionable modern dances is as much a violation of the seventh commandment as adultery.”
Dr. R.A. Adams, in his book The Social Dance published in 1924, thunders: “It is a sad reflection on the people of this Nation that they should run out of dance steps and dance names and come down to the level of the brutes whose sexual actions they imitate in what are called animal dances. It is well known that these animal dances are imitations of the animals in their sex relations and sex exercise, and that they are intended to arouse sexual desire and result in sex satisfaction … The “Boll Weevil Wiggle” and the “Texas Tommy Wiggle” are danced in close personal contact intended to arouse sex feeling. The “Grizzly Bear” encourages the closest and most violent physical contact for the same purpose. The “Bunny Hug” is danced in imitation of the sex relation between male and female rabbits. The “Turkey Trot,” “Fox Trot,” “Horse Trot,” “Fish Walk,” “Dog Walk,” “Tiger Dance,” and the “Buzzard Lope,” are all imitative of the lower animals in their sex life, sex desire, sex excitement and sex satisfaction; and these things are in the minds of the dancers who understand the meaning of the animal dances.
Ultimately, this “notorious” dance’s popularity waned in favor of the Fox Trot.
The basic steps for the Turkey Trot consisted of four hopping steps sideways with the feet well apart, first on one leg, then the other with a characteristic rise on the ball of the foot, followed by a drop upon the heel. The dance was embellished with flicks of the feet and fast trotting actions with abrupt stops. Dancers were encouraged to also raise and lower their elbows while they danced to imitate the flapping wings of an excited turkey.
If you want to keep dancing, there are more “turkey trots” in the National Jukebox. Enjoy!