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Irene & Vernon Castle

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1915 photograph of Irene and Vernon Castle, photograph by Moffett

About

Irene and Vernon Castle (1893-1969 and 1887-1918, respectively) brought elegance and good manners to ballroom dancing as a smart young married couple. Both music arranger Ford T. Dabney and the couple's musicians were black, and the Castles brought ragtime and jazz-based dances to a new audience. An eccentric comic initially, Vernon arrived in New York from England in 1907 to perform with Lew Fields. He and Irene met and were married in 1911. The first appearance of the pair together was at Paris's Theatre Olympia, dancing to "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in Enfin... Une Revue. Back in New York, the two opened Castle House, a dancing school across from the Ritz Hotel, and attracted society patrons. Famous for introducing Tea Dances, the Castles's clubs—Sans Souci and Castles in the Air—helped to move social dancing from the ballroom to public venues. Stylish renditions of the one-step, maxixe, tango, fox trot, Castle Polka, Hesitation Waltz, and Castle Walk were seen on the 1914 Whirlwind Tour: thirty-two cities in twenty-eight days. Later that year the Castles were in Charles Dillingham's Watch Your Step. Before Vernon joined the British Royal Air Force in 1916, the couple gave farewell performances at the New York Hippodrome. After his untimely death, Irene had a career in film and vaudeville and was advisor to the 1939 movieThe Story of Vernon and Irene Castle.

 

Pictured rightA 1915 photograph of Irene and Vernon Castle. Irene Castle's elegant, youthful style influenced American women and helped the Castles become among the first modern celebrities. (Photograph by Moffett; from the Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations.)


FURTHER RESEARCH: IRENE & VERNON CASTLE

Read an essay by Christopher Martin -- Selected resources


 

Pictured below: A page of etiquette suggestions from the Castles' 1914 dance manual, Modern Dancing. The Castles popularized refined and decorous versions of ragtime dances originating in African American culture, making them acceptable to mainstream white society.1914 manual "Modern Dancing"

 

Watch

Irene and Vernon Castle in the silent film "Whirl of Life," 1915. This scene captures the Castles performing a ballroom dance in a fashionable restaurant, mimicking the settings where their career took off. Note, film clip is silent.