Yesterday I posted the extraordinarily strange acrobatic comedy diving-board routine of Larry Griswold. It occurred to me that, beyond the athleticism involved in Griswold’s act, there was a comic style to the movements, all of which were clearly choreographed. I believe that it’s based on the wonderful and long-forgotten art of ‘eccentric dancing’, a comic specialty of a handful of virtuoso dancers who performed in Vaudeville, legitimate theater and movies largely in the 1920s and 30s.

What is eccentric dance? It’s a style of dance performance in which the moves are unconventional and individualistic. Instead of holding the body stiff and straight in the style of a jig, acrobatics such as flips and contortions were used in a more exuberant, expressive and idiosyncratic way. Early distinctive forms of eccentric dancing had names like ‘rubber legs’ or ‘legomania’. ‘Rubberlegging’ involved leg shaking or snaking which later evolved into ‘Shag’ and the showcase style of none other than Elvis, while ‘legomania’ added leaps and kicks in the air. Joel Schechter describes eccentric dance as the “vaudevillian impulse to dance like crazy, even if the legs do not agree with the upper torso, or the music, about which way to go.”

One of the greatest of all purveyors of this strange and compelling art was an Englishman named Jack Stanford. Stanford became so well known that he graduated from low-rent music halls to playing the Folies-Begere with Josephine Baker and ultimately performed at the London Palladium for the King and Queen. Fortunately some film of Stanford’s act survives and I’ve posted one example today which will either introduce you to the art or, if you’re already a fan, will provide you with a glimpse of one of the true masters. More eccentric dance to follow this week…



Sign up for news & updates so you don't miss a thing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *