by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Long, long ago in a time known as the Late Twentieth Century, music and dancing were endemic in the Americas. They still have not died in Latin America, but if anything typifies the generation now coming of age in North America, it is an inability to write love letters, dance, play folk musical instruments or listen to music for hours at a time. The schools in most states in the Southeastern United States do not even teach cursive writing. Young people today do not know how to sign their own names!
The most important skill now required of young Gringas is how to dump boyfriends by text messaging. They have no clue how to express love with text messaging. Before dancing and popular music are completely forgotten, The Americas Revealed is providing you a glossary of terms associated with those ancient cultural practices, which you can pass down to your heirs.
Shindig is the Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic word that described spontaneous community celebrations on the Southern Frontier. In some regions they were were known as a “hoedown” or “hootenanny.” In Louisiana Cajun country, they were called a “fais do do.” They involved potluck dinners, singing of religious and folk songs, instrumental folk music, dancing, sports and lots of alcoholic beverages. Men and women from age 15 up consumed vast quantities of home-made wine, brandy, hard cider and whiskey.
Etymology: Shindig – “dance, party, lively gathering,” probably from shindy “a spree, merrymaking” – perhaps from shinty, name of a Scottish game akin to Irish hurling or English hockey.
When I was growing up, many small towns in the Southeastern and Southwestern United States continued the shindig tradition with alcohol-free street dances on summer evenings. In Waycross, GA, when I was a child, the municipal government sponsored public celebrations on Tebeau Street that had been a tradition since the town was founded by Arcadian refugees (Cajuns) in the 1700s. Separate dances were held in the Black Community across the railroad tracks. These all ended, when integration of public events was mandated by the federal courts.
Today, Asheville, NC continues the shindig tradition, but they are really public outdoor concerts in which the dancing and music occur on a stage. Only in Louisiana are the shindigs . . . called fais do do’s . . . true to their original tradition.
A true night club is a large restaurant with an extensive dance floor and live entertainment. Originally, night clubs were associated with large hotels, such as the Willard, Hay-Adams and Mayflower in Washington, DC or the Biltmore in Atlanta. With the development of Las Vegas, night clubs became the central fixtures of gambling casinos. Only men in dress military uniforms or a coat & tie would be admitted to the club. Women were expected to wear cocktail dresses . . . although female celebrities could get away with almost anything.
Better night clubs would present several acts during the night. During dining hours, music might consist of a romantic singer, pianist or harpist. Once dancing started, the restaurant would shut down. That’s when the club made its money off of alcoholic drinks. Initial acts might be a young singer or a comedian. Until the mid-1950s, the feature act would be a big dance band. From then on, it was rock and folk singers performing.
When Alicia and I went to the Club Cristobal Colon, a mariachi band sang romantic Mexican songs during dinner. Dancing began with a local rock band. Los Angeles Negros came on after women had enough time to get “warmed up” by alcoholic beverages. You see, Los Angeles Negros only sang slow, romantic songs that would make your lady squeeze you tight and fall in love, while slow dancing.
One scene at the Cristobal Colon that I will never forget was this big fat high-ranking police officer in his 50s, with two teenage girls as his dates. Each one had an arm around him. Alicia snarled and said, “Ricardo, that is why I want to leave Mexico!” This is what Los Angeles Negros would have looked like that night in December 1970. The video below is of a Mexican TV equivalent of American Bandstand . . . sponsored by a cigarette company!
Discotheques were just coming into existence in the largest cities of the Americas in 1970. They were in New York City and Mexico City, but not Atlanta. Throughout the Americas, discotheque was quickly shortened to disco. They initially were a cheap alternative to night clubs, since the owner did not have to pay performers and often got away with not paying royalties on the recorded music.
Some of the first discos in Atlanta, Dallas and Houston catered to teenagers under 18, who could not legally purchase alcoholic beverages. By the 1980s, the designs of discos had become quite sophisticated. Patrons to the more popular discos paid high entrance fees and grossly inflated charges for beverages in order to dance there.
Etymology: Discotheque “club where recorded dance music is played,” as a French word in English; nativized by 1964, from French discothèque “nightclub with recorded music for dancing” – also “record library,” borrowed 1932 from Italian discoteca “record collection, record library,” coined 1927 from disco “phonograph record” + -teca “collection” (from Latinized combining form of Greek thēkē “case, receptacle;” probably on model of biblioteca “library.”
Young men and women in Latin America never quite accepted being charged money just to dance to records. They could legally drink alcoholic beverages at 16 and seldom were carded if slightly younger. The disco in Latin America took two forms, both which mixed recorded music with live bands from local communities. Ones with expensive decors and full service bars catered to affluent adults. Those with simple decors typically sold only wine, beer and cocktails – no pure distilled beverages. Below is a disco in the Zona Rosa that Alicia and I liked to dance in. On weekends it featured bands from Colonia Nueva Santa Maria where Alicia lived and I stayed, when not out in the boonies, studying archaeological sites.
The Latin American concept of a disco eventually caught on in the suburbs of Southeastern cities during the 1980s. Basically, the Dance Lounge mixed the concept of a bar with a Latin disco. They mixed cheap local bands with recorded music. Their decors were simple and they had full service bars. Their dance floors were smaller than real discos, but they contained enough tables and bar seats for all patrons. The dance lounges were free so encouraged patrons to drink as many alcoholic beverages as possible. My dates and I did not buy our fair share of booze and so helped to contribute to the downfall of dance lounges.
When I was suddenly single in the late 1990s and early 2000s, dance lounges were endemic in suburban Atlanta. They are now virtually non-existent . . . except in party meccas such as Buckhead and Little Five Points. Julie the Indonesian Sweetie and I went dancing frequently. This was typical of young and middle aged adults of that era. Our singles Sunday School class even went as a group to dance lounges at least once a month. Now dancing has become a lost art. Here are two favorite songs played in Southeastern dance lounges in the late 20th century.
Honkytonks are bars with dance floors in the Southeastern United States that traditionally catered to blue collar patrons. Most of the time, music is provided by a juke box, but on weekends, local bands may perform. The dance floors are typically modest in size. Honkytonks still exist in the rural Southeast . . . but are typically not the sort of spot that I might find kindred souls.
The origin of the term honky-tonk is unknown. The earliest-known use in print is a report in the Fort Worth Daily Gazette, dated January 24, 1889, that a “petition to the council is being circulated for signatures, asking that the Honky Tonk theater on Main Street be reopened.” The fact the words are capitalized suggests it may have been the proper name for the theater.
There are subsequent citations from 1890 in the Dallas ”Morning News, 1892 in the Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas), (which used the term to refer to an adult establishment in Fort Worth), and in 1894 in The Daily Ardmoreite in Oklahoma, in which it was written “honk-a-tonk”. The fact early uses of the term in print mostly appear along a corridor roughly coinciding with cattle drive trails extending from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas and into South-Central Oklahoma, suggest that the origin of the word may have been a localism spread by cowboys driving cattle to market.
Believe it or not . . . the favorite spot for Vivi the sophisticated French actress, singer and “French courtesan” to go out on the town with me, was a HONKYTONK in Bethesda, Maryland. It was named “The Twist and Shout.” It began (I think) in the 1970s as a rock’n roll / country music honkytonk for blue collar transplants. However, once the management switched to Cajun Music and the type music played by Willie Nelson, the patronage became educated Southerners.
I read in the Washington Post that Arlington, VA resident, Mary Chapin Carpenter, was performing at the Twist and Shout with the famous Louisiana Cajun band, BeauSoleil. They were charging for admission this time, but heck, it was pocket change for Vivi. She was overjoyed when I suggested that we go on a date there again. Our friends in Alexandria took care of her daughter.
There was a huge waiting line, when we got there. In her typical fashion, Vivi ignored the line. She walked up to the entrance door and asked in French, if Cajuns got in free. The young man at the door screamed for someone, who spoke French. The person who responded told him to let us in, if we were reasonably attractive. Many Cajuns are part Choctaw. Being 1/4 Indian from southern Mexico, Vivi looked just like a Cajun. They instantly assumed that we were both Cajuns and in indeed, let us in free without waiting in line or buying a ticket.
A movie company was filming the evening’s performance. After awhile, a woman with the film company asked Vivi if she would dance with a Cajun guy, who was her height. Of course, they had no clue that Vivi was a French actress, not a Cajun gal. They matched me with a tall blond gal from Knoxville, TN. We were not shabby dancers, but certainly not in the league of Vivi and her Cajun partner. You will see Vivi several times in the video below. She’s the perky, smiling gal with the long, curly, black hair, who also sweeps across the screen in the very last scene.
Keep on dancing!