Tough guy actor George Raft began his career in the cabarets of Times Square in the 1920s as a ‘hoofer’, period slang for a male dancer who didn’t specialize in formal dance. Hoofers were a breed unto themselves, generally self-taught street-wise kids whose athleticism and panache could land them in Vaudeville rather than the penitentiary. James Cagney was a proud hoofer and developed his own peculiar dancing style as a direct result of his  lack of training. Raft is a fabulously suave and slinky dancer and in the above scene from ‘Bolero’ (1934) he dances with Carole Lombard, performing the kind of nightclub number you were likely to see in the big-ticket midtown clubs of the era. His ‘snake hips’ bit comprises much of his repetoire but one can see elements of Charleston, Ballroom, Burlesque, Cakewalk and other styles of the times (and preceding them) that he would likely have picked up both on the street and in the Vaudeville houses of the day. And then there’s that bit with Raft’s cane behind Carole (1:12)…well, there was a reason the Production Code came into existence I suppose…


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2 Responses

  1. Wow, Raft is the stand-out here, especially when he goes into his slink-hips bit; you don’t see that kind of panache when you see him in his stolid-faced gangster roles. Also, the way he twirls his cane is reminiscent of Astaire. As for that thrusting bit he does with the stick–weren’t he and Lombard engaged in an offscreen affair at the time? You can still see this kind of exuberant street dancing today, with young men performing hip-hop routines on the NYC subway cars. Evidently self-taught but with lots of energy and amazing precision and rhythm.

    1. If Raft were half the actor that he was dancer he’d have been Bogart’s serious competition–instead of the guy who we can’t believe was first offered the lead in ‘Maltese Falcon’ before Bogie got it.

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