“GIRLS! HERE'S FAME! Chance Is Offered Local Steppers to Tour Circuit. Fame and a stage career await the Vancouver girl who can best dance the newest sensation of the dancing world - the Charleston.”
The contest sponsors, Alexander Pantages and the Vancouver Evening Sun, engaged ex-Ziegfeld Follies dancer Dorothea May Richmond to teach the Charleston, “as it was danced originally by Southern colored folk and is now done on Broadway and throughout the East, to any and every Vancouver girl who cares to learn it” (Sun, Sept. 15, 1925). Eventually, after insistent demand, the contest would be opened up to boys as well.
Miss Richmond, who was appearing at the Pantages Theatre in stage and ballroom interpretations of the Charleston, both alone and with a partner, danced at every afternoon and evening show; following each performance during the week prior to the contest, she gave free backstage instruction to contestants. As Richmond's manager, Hamilton Douglas, explained: “The Charleston dance is a dance made up of steps angling around the third position in dancing....” and it was important not to get away from this position. On September 19, 1925, Douglas warned Sun readers: “Beware of false Charleston dancers with their false steps.”
What was at stake here? In addition to an “immense silver trophy cup,” if the winner had “the required stage personality” there was a chance of a contract to dance at the Pantages. There's more: if the act was a success, a further contract to appear on the Northwest Pantages circuit would be offered, with the possibility of having the contract extended to include all Pantages houses.
Who were the experts entrusted to judge this event? The audience, reported the Sun on September 26, 1925, “and critical judges they were, for by their applause they winnowed out the losers, eliminating at the first dance two from the original twelve who entered the contest.” The winner? Two days later Miss Toy Smith was declared “Vancouver's best amateur dancer of the stage Charleston.” And the only Charleston instruction she'd had previously were two one-hour lessons at Fenn's Dancing Academy. (next page)
©2006, Dance Collection Danse