A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

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Entry from November 12, 2006
Texas Tommy (dance)

The “Texas Tommy” was a popular dance about 1910-1913; it was even danced in the White House. The “Texas Tommy” dance was popularized around San Francisco, and was originated by the vaudeville dancing team of Peters & Walton.

Dance Style
The Texas Tommy is said by many to be the first swing dance. The main reason being that during this period (1909), all the dances were done in “closed” position, this was supposedly the first modern dance of the time to include the “break-away” step (dancing in open position) while using the basic 8 count rhythm of swing dance.

The Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco is written to have given birth to the Texas Tommy along with the Bunny hug, Turkey Trot and Grizzly Bear. The hotel had a house band that regularly played the Texas Tommy song and was a major place to be for dancing. Who originated the Texas Tommy is obscure, most likely it was being done and someone capitalized upon it. Some say Johnny Peters, an African-American, developed the Texas Tommy in the Pre-1910s in San Francisco. Peters and Ethel Williams were masters of the dance and danced it regularly at the Fairmont.

Dance move
The term Texas Tommy may also refer to a dance move in the Lindy Hop style of swing dance. The lead takes the follow’s hand behind her back (normally both right hands), then “unwinds” her into a spin.

Music & Lyrics
Sheet music including lyrics to the “Texas Tommy Swing” were published by the World’s Fair Publishing Company, 1200A Third Avenue, San Francisco on January 1, 1911. The music was composed by Sid Brown, and lyrics were by Val Harris. The sheet music cover was unique, and done in the form of the front page of a newspaper. The headline was, “The Dance That Makes The Whole World Stare.”

The faux newspaper included reprints of two actual articles from the San Francisco Examiner. The first, dated November 29, 1910 was headlined “Pavlowa Endorsed Texas Tommy Swing.” The second, dated December 29, 1910 was headlined “Mrs. Oelriches Liked Texas Tommy Swing.”

The central article in the faux newspaper was “The Story of the Dance” and demonstrates the incipient racism of the times. It is transcribed here:

A breath from the cotton fields - the grizzly bear, the loving hug, the walk-back and the turkey-trot all belend in Texas Tommy Swing.

The Texas Tommy Swing invades the north and east like a dainty zephyr from the perfumed cotton fields of the sunny South. The rhythm of the Grizzy Bear, the inspiration of the Loving Hug, the grace of the Walk-Back and the abandon of the Turkey-Trot all belend in the harmony of the Texas Tommy Swing, which was really the parent of all the others.

The dance originated more than forty years ago among the negroes of the old Southern plantations. Every little movement has a meaning all its own to the heart truly in tune with nature. The graceful harmonies of the song and dance reflect the joyous spirit of the negro race, the care-free actions of the Dinahs and the Sams who gathered outside the cabin doors on moonlit nights and to the twang of the banjo or the scrape of the fiddle, vented the rhapsodies of mind and body in a purely natural way.

Here and there a raucous discord like the squaking voice of a chicken in distress breaks in upon the frivolous melody of the theme or a plaintive note brings a reminder of the tear always so close to the laugh in the negro nature.

Southern darkies brought the dance and a suggestion of the melody to San Francisco several years ago, and there upon the Barbary Coast it was rounded into perfect harmony. It took the place by storm. Eastern people interested in dancing took it up. Stage favorites seized upon its absorbing rhapsodies.

Society men and women accepted and adopted it. Pavlowa, the Czar’s favorite dancer, went into raptures over it and incorporated it in her repertoire. Leaders of the four hundred all over the country regard it as one of the sights of San Francisco and endorse it to their friends on their return.

In tangible and concrete form this inspiring, historic and dramatic song and dance is now presented to the public for the first time, in Texas Tommy Swing.

8 January 1911, Washington Post, “Gossip From Gotham” by May Hengler, pg. MS7:
Mrs. Helen Oelrichs, who is herself a very graceful dance, is passing critical judgment on “the Turkey Trot,” the “Texas Tommy,” “the Bunny Hug,” “the Grizzly Bear,” and the other “inspirational” dances to be seen at the beach resorts out in Frisco. These lovin’ two steps, or muscle dances, or whatever you want to call it, require very little knowledge of the art of terpsichore. A short time ago “the Grizzly Bear” was caged, and “the Texas Tommy” run out of town. Mrs. Oelrichs joined the merry throng, and glided out upon the floor to the melody of an old-fashioned barn dance.
8 April 1911, Boston Daily Globe, pg. 3 ad:
All the New Hits
Texas Tommy
6 January 1912, Washington Post, pg. 2:
Also the “Turkey Trot,” “Texas Tommy,” and “Come Back, Kid,”
Are Said to Have Lured the Exclusive Dancing Class From the
Prosaic Waltz and Two-Step—But, Really, They’re Not
Bad Dances, Say Their Devotees—“Tommy”
Tripped Secretly at the White House.
“Texas Tommy” at White House.
Then there is another little novelty which bears the exhilarating title of “Texas Tommy.” “Texas Tommy” consists largely in the dancers being able to shuffle their feet to the rhythmic music of a ragtime tune without lifting their feet from the floor, the body swaying from side to side in time with the shuffling. “Texas Tommy” is a new dance, having been shown to much advantage by a number of the younger people at the New Year’s reception at the White House—mostly in secluded corners, while the Marine Band banged away at various popular ragtime compositions of the day.
19 January 1912, Los Angeles

, pg. III4:
He Ought to Know.
“No, suh, dat’s no white folks dance.
“Ah knows, ‘cause ah invented it.
“Yes, suh.
“You call down heah ain’t seen the real Texas Tommy yit. No suh. That Texas Tommy ain’t bin danced heah. Deze white fo’ks dat’s bin dancin’ an’ callin’ it Texas Tommy, cain’t dance it nohow. You jes wait till you all sees me an’ mah pa’tner dance the real Texas Tommy.”
Charlie Peters is a well-known character in San Francisco. He has danced in all the noted halls there as well as most of those that avoid the light of publicity. Just now he is feeling his oats for he is in vaudeville. Peters and Walton will be a feature of the “Georgia Campers,” who come next week in Pantages.
Owing to the necessity of sending Weber and Wilson, who have been dancing the Texas Tommy at Pantages for the past two weeks, up to the Seattle branch of the Pantages circuit, Charlie Peters and his dancing partner have been sent ahead and will make their first appearance in the Texas Tommy Friday night, two days ahead of the rest of the “Georgia Campers.”
Charlie and his partner had been dancing the Texas Tommy for three months before it “caught on.” That it finally did so was due to the clever work of a publicity man who believed it was sufficiently out of the ordinary to deserve exploitation. This press agent fixed up a scheme with one of his friends “on the force.” One night while doing their dance the two were arrested and locked up on the charge of giving an indecent exhibition.
When the case was called they pleaded not guilty.
The evidence against them was the opinion of the cop who made the arrest. He said the dance was not “fit for publication.”
The defence was a total denial of the facts.
“Jedge, dat dance ain’t immoral nohow,” said Peters.
“Dat cop, he jes natchally got in feh me, an’ dat’s why ah’m heah, jedge.
“Jedge, you jes’ let me dance dat Texas Tommy heah in dis co’t room an you all kin see foh yo’self.”
The judge consented and the case was remanded for twenty-four hours. When it was called next morning the word had gone abroad and the room was crowded with those who wished to see the supposedly immoral exhibition.
Peters and Walton danced the Texas Tommy.
“Huh, is that the way they do it at the Hippodrome, Casey?” asked the judge of the arresting officer.

“Pretty much like that, Your Honor.”
“Well, I fail to see where the indecency charge is justified. The case is dismissed.”
“Kin ah go jedge,” asked Peters.
“You’re free,” answered the judge.
“But jedge, ahs done jes’ two days pay ‘cause ah been arrested. Doan ah get nuffin’ foh dat?”
“I guess not.”
“An all dese people heah dat saw mah dance, does dey get dat for nuffin?”
“If you can get anything from them you are at liberty to take up a collection.”
“Thanky, jedge, thanky.”
Peters took up a collection.
With the cup at his elbow he went through that crowd like a pork packer on the trail of a lost penny. It required two canvas sacks to remove the plunder—after the cop got his two-thirds. And so, Texas Tommy first saw the calcium. He has basked in it ever since.
And Peters maintains that he is the only real Texas Tommy dancer—he and his partner—and the others are just imitators. More important, and more germane to the present situation, is his claim that Texas Tommy is “no dance foh white fo’ks suh, an’ if you all wants to see it right, you jes’ gotter see me an’ mah pahtner do it, sah.”
16 April 1912, Oakland (CA) Tribune, “‘Texas Tommy’ Dancers to Show Their Skill to the Public,” pg. 11, col. 2:
Another feature of especial interest will be the Texas Tommy dancing contest.
This act has been placed on the new program as a result of the keen interest shown in the dance last week when it was seen there. For the coming contest Manager Smith has secured John Peters, said to be the colored champion at the present time, and with his partner, Peters will give an especially clever rendition of the dance. Peters and his partner will challenge all other dancers to compete with them in the contest, the winners to be presented with a gold medal by the management.
24 February 1914, Indianapolis Star, pg. 13, col. 3:
Will Brown brought a round of applause with his singing of “The Man of the Hour,” and Johnnie Peters, who originated the Texas Tommy dance, also scored a hit with his speedy footwork.

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