AH! To be or not to be 'Eccentric'!
Wow!!! We made it past $15,000! I have to sit down....WAIT! I AM sitting down!!! Ha
Ok guys....guess what I found and you KNOW I'll want to join! http://www.eccentricclub.co.uk/ (Quote) "Welcome to the Eccentric Club (UK), formerly known in its various incarnations as The Illustrious Society of Eccentrics, The Everlasting Society of Eccentrics, The Eccentric Society Club and, finally, The Eccentric Club." Is this fate?
A QUICK ECCENTRIC HISTORY:
Ever since the caveman first spoke & gestured, there must have been some sort of 'silly walks' around the proverbial camp fire. Unfortunately we haven't found those cave drawings yet, but we DO know that it is a genre of popular theatrical dance which can be traced from early Greek & Roman entertainment, revolving around ridiculous re-enactments of life. Back then it was surely safer not to speak, (Emperor bald jokes were strictly forbidden), but the visual comedian had inadvertently created a universal language, as classic mime slid into comic drama. I was amazed to learn how pantomime shaped the Eccentric's path early on, through the Roman Pantomimists wearing of various masks, and the reliance on body language and gesture, which were and still are, expressive and important in the Eccentric's vocabulary. The Eccentric's 'tricks' are ancient, from medieval graffiti as church carvings to English hieroglyphics....hmmm, that MUST be where those 'wild & crazy' sand dancers, Wilson & Kepple come in!
Dancing in 'character' has been around for centuries. Asia, India and Balinese movement can be traced into the eccentric's sometimes angular and 'silhouette' style. Noverre and the 18th century ballet masters called such work 'Grotesque Dance', which JERRY LEWIS surprised me, referring to the term. The French still have a vocabulary in 'La Danse Eccentrique' , as well as the Venetian ballet master, Gregorio Lambranzi, (1716). But it was the French Arlequin 'comic' dances, which led to the English Pantomime, with commedia dell arte' characterizations, music and dance, that changed everything. In the advent of the Music Hall, specialty acts, schooled in the French and commedia 'slapstick' tradition, flourished and provided the perfect training ground for the eccentric character. Grimaldi became a star and the 'joey clown' was born! Even 'Boz' Dickens, whose first book, 'Memoirs of Grimaldi', would dance the 'hornpipe', an eccentric staple, for his friends. The Music Hall provided a refuge for the eccentric's development, as DAN LENO, LITTLE TICH and countless others perfected their craft.
The incomporable LITTLE TICH: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DpoGy_WIcCY
But the arrival of the AMERICAN MINSTREL SHOW, (mid-1800's), was the turning point in the eccentric's evolution. Three distinct styles of eccentric emerged: Legmania (spun from the extreme French can-can kicks), classic eccentric (a Celtic influence with frenetic 'below the waist' leg flips) & snakehips (with West African undulating hip swings & extreme body fluidity). Some did it all!
LEGMANIA: (Melissa Mason) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmRStwQD_UM
CLASSIC ECCENTRIC: (Al Norman) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuYK2f_qPPA
SNAKEHIPS: ('Snakehips Tucker') http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7U4ww-MmAY4
(FYI: The word itself: The earliest to date that I have found the actual term 'eccentric dance' in print was 1842, in an old, little book, 'The Variety Stage', but I may well find earlier reference when I return to the UK....I KNOW you were all wondering....)
To me, the beauty of eccentric dance is how everything depends on the solo dancer, their physical idiosyncracies, fexibility and comic mannerisms, make it unique to them. Add to that a 'character', a narrative, a costume to accentuate or disguise the dancer's physicality, music to punctuate the routine, and you have the quintessential eccentric dancer. The eccentric works on the basis of deliberate caricature & parody, often bringing him in subtle conflict with the classic dance, as seen in this wonderful, classic FANNY BRICE ballet parody: 'Be Yourself'!
Or spoofing any kind of 'classic' dance', as seen here with the wonderful English eccentric BILLY DAINTY as 'MR. PASTRY'! I LOVE Mr. Pastry for being such a silly character, doing such a profoundly ridiculous Edwardian dance. It never fails to make me laugh! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LObE4WzGILI&feature=related
Here's another favorite to enjoy: The RITZ BROS. (1937) 'Wake Up & Live' http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFusa9hm6gY
One of my earliest research references was the first DANCE MAGAZINES (circa 1919-1934) loaned to me by the vaudeville historian, KENDALL CAPPS, a child star in vaudeville who worked with the MARX BROS.. and whose father had done an eccentric act. I was shocked at the numerous reference to eccentric dancers, documented routines & costuming ideas, sheet music and ads for Selva shoes, featuring the famous 'Eccentric Dance' team of FRED & ADELE ASTAIRE! These magazines covered the New York Broadway stage & vaudeville houses, and boasted over 150 schools, including the Russian Ballet, which taught Eccentric Dance! THIS was a turning point and I knew this was more than just 'schtick'!
And as they say, the rest is history! I will include another update of some of my favorite routines....but I need to say once more, how wonderful it has been to meet you all! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Cheers! 'Your resident Eccentric'....Betsy
(Pics below: 1) My interpretation of how dance began, 'caveman style'....stepping on a hot coal? the French Minuet & the advent of dance, Wilson & Kepple, Grimaldi, Dickens, Dan Leno, Little Tich, Mr. Pastry, the Ritz Bros., & my role as 'Maurice'!)