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This Week in Texas Music History: Freak Dancing


by Stephen Becker 8 Jul 2011

This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman discusses a Dallas city ordinance that banned “freak” dancing.

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Art&Seek presents This Week in Texas Music History. Every week, we’ll spotlight a different moment and the musician who made it. This week, Texas music scholar Gary Hartman discusses a Dallas city ordinance that banned “freak” dancing.

NOTE: You can also hear This Week in Texas Music History on SUNDAY at precisely 6:04 p.m. on KERA radio instead of its previous Saturday spot on the schedule. But subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. And our thanks to KUT public radio in Austin for helping us bring this segment to you. And if you’re a music lover, be sure to check out Track by Track, the bi-weekly podcast from Paul Slavens, host of KXT’s The Paul Slavens Show, heard Sunday night’s at 8.

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On July 12, 1915, the City of Dallas passed an ordinance banning so-called “freak” dances, in which dancers supposedly behaved in a wild or inappropriate manner. The ordinance was part of a national moral crusade aimed at preserving long-standing Victorian social mores, which were rapidly fading as the United States transformed into a modern, urban society. Moral reformers felt especially threatened by jazz, a new form of African-American music that was becoming popular among young white audiences during the early 1900s. Because city leaders feared that white teenagers might be attracted to what at the time was called “race” music, the freak dance ordinance banned several new dance steps considered to be innapropriate and made it illegal for women under 17 to enter a dance club.

Next time on This Week in Texas Music History, we’ll honor the state’s most successful female songwriter.

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