July 5, 2013
The fourth, and last, part of the “Doing It by the Book” series takes us into the 1920s and the birth of the “Home Instruction by Mail” movement, a precursor of the many ballroom dance DVDs and YouTube videos that proliferate today.
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PROFESSOR CHARLES J. FRANK
In 1919, curiously mustachioed dance instructor Charles J. Frank, left, who had previously taught from his home in Brooklyn and later in Washington D.C., opened the Inter-State Dancing Academy at 1109 Walnut Street. He offered private lessons in the newest versions of the Waltz, One-Step, Fox Trot and Peabody for 50 cents a half hour. The peppy ragtime One-Step would stay popular for a few more years, since it was perfect for the brisk rhythms of the new jazz music. The Peabody was likewise a quick version of the Fox Trot.
By 1921, Frank had moved the studio to 1127 Chestnut Street, above the Acker Quality Shop, and renamed it “The Beacon Dance Academy.” A year later, he moved the Beacon to 1215 Walnut Street, next to the St. Francis Hotel. You can see what that section of Walnut Street looked like in that period in the photo, below, looking west toward the St. Francis.
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LEARN AT HOME
Some time in early 1922, Frank had a new idea for teaching dance. He took the venerable dance instruction book one step further and began promoting a learn-at-home social dancing course, “dedicated to those who enjoy Dancing and wish to dance the New Dances more properly and gracefully, and also to those who know nothing at all about the Modern Dances.” The course was to consist of a set of four pamphlets, to be sent through the mail. The Waltz and Fox Trot instruction booklets, right, were printed in July of 1922. A One Step booklet appeared in December of 1922. There’s no record of the fourth booklet ever having been published. We don’t know what Professor Frank charged for this course by mail, or if it was financially successful. The diagrams, using footprints marked “L” and “R,” were just complex enough to encourage the reader to come into Frank’s dance academy for further lessons and explanation (see sample diagram, below, left.)
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MR. FRANK, MEET MR. MURRAY
Frank was doing two things that were fairly innovative for 1922. He was using labeled footprints to show the progression and footwork of the dance and he was using the U.S. Postal Service to teach. At this same time, another American dance teacher in New York was launching a highly successful dance course by mail that also used diagrams illustrated by labeled footprints. That teacher was Arthur Murray, below. Murray would go on to become an American ballroom dance icon, opening dance studio franchises across the country and earning millions. Charles Frank would sink into oblivion. Was Frank influenced by Murray or was Murray influenced by Frank? Did they even know about each other? Chances are, we’ll never know.
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The Beacon Academy moved back to 1109 Walnut Street about 1935 and stayed there through the 1970s, as you can see by this photo, below, taken in 1971. The second floor of that building is office space today, and the first floor houses a Subway sandwich shop and a Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Professor Frank’s old 1215 Walnut Street space continued the dance tradition into the 1980s when it was home to three gay discos: Rainbows, the Loft and the Kennel Club. There’s a parking lot there now.
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1922 FASHION BONUS
By 1922, women’s dresses for street-wear and dancing were reflecting the trends that would mark the rest of the ’20s; waistlines were dropping and hemlines were rising. In this Lit Brothers ad, above, from a July, 1922 edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, fashionable hems had risen to mid-calf. (As with all illustrations on the Philadelphia Dance History Journal, click on the ad to see a larger version.) They would rise to the knee by the end of the decade.
By 1924, the shortened skirts would allow women the range of motion to do a wild and energetic dance they couldn’t possibly have done in the 1910s – the Charleston.