Dirty dancing
Looking Back

Dirty dancing

/ 04:20 AM February 28, 2024

When people ask why I look young for my age, they hope the compliment will entice me to reveal what expensive, imported face cream I use daily. Frankly, there is no secret: I have not sold my soul to the devil to look young, I don’t have a magic portrait in storage that looks my real age, there are no vitamin supplements or cosmetic surgeries to speak of. I like to think that all good teachers look younger than their age because of their constant exposure to young people. I learn a lot more from my students than I teach them. They show me their world and the way they see the world not from their naked eyes but from the lens of their smartphones set at 0.5 for a selfie. When my mother discussed her children, comparing us with those of her amigas, the phrase that was repeated in those conversations was “generation gap.” That was the term my mother used to describe her inability to understand some of the ways and mores of her children and other teenagers of my generation.

Long before we had Gen X, Y, Z, and beyond, an older generation always found it difficult to adapt or accept the changes brought by youth. In the November 1924 issue of The Independent, a bilingual (Spanish-Tagalog) weekly from which I have drawn so much material for my columns, there was a scathing editorial on “modern” dances described as the “Height of Indecency.” The author cited a certain Dr. B. Tamley (who is so obscure Google could not provide me with any references) writing for the “leading scientific review American Medicine” that “All in all, dance of a generation or so ago were expressive of beauty in all their phases. But these disappeared with the adoption of modern dances based on Oriental Models (Wow!) and representing not love nor gallantry, but the grossest kind of sexuality … Nowadays symbolism in dances has disappeared; they are no longer the poetry of emotion; they are the most obscene re-presentation, not imitation of certain lewd acts.”

If Tamley and the editorial writer of the 1924 Independent lived to see Elvis the Pelvis and Madonna, they would have a heart attack. “The modern dances,” the editorial noted, “no longer represent the syncopated form of Rag Time. The music is reminiscent of savage music; in it there is a double and even a triple rhythm, that makes the dancing pair move slowly in different rhythms, and the whole effect produced by the dancers is that of a procession of ants … To the tension produced by such exotic notes, chosen with a view to excite the nervous system, and to the rhythm of an enchanting music, languid and seductive, the marriable men and women of both sexes execute pantomimes, sensual, and lascivious, that rival in representation the dangerous frivolities of those who dance with their mid-section …”


I cannot imagine what the editorial is so excited about. I didn’t know what the dances the editorial complained about were without consulting Google: Shimmy, Jazz, Choppy, Turkey Trot, Tango, Maxis, Hesitation, etc. Instead of being a means for socializing, modern dance “ceased to be, therefore, a preliminary step to gallantry and courtship, but a substitution of sexual impulse [or the erotic] for normal [clean or innocent] pleasures. It is no longer a sublimation of sexual fervor, but almost a means to find excitement and contacts with those with whom one cannot have such liberties through the usual channels.”


Then The Independent brought out the religious card, stating that the Philippines was predominantly Catholic, with thousands of religious associations, leagues, federations, orders, societies, etc. that preached and demanded a certain morality from the faithful. It then singled out a certain Judge Simplicio del Rosario who was the only person who “mustered enough civic courage to denounce the modern dances as pernicious and indecent.” In my youth, the moral crusader against smut in film was Polly Cayetano, then there was a succession of embattled chairs of the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, later morphed into the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. The Independent supported Del Rosario against the introduction of modern dances to the aristocratic salons and social circles. Concluding with some questions: “How can some men permit their wives and sisters, and daughters to do through such lustful motions [hacer pirouetas impudicas] in their very presence, and in the arms of other men? Are we in Sodom?

”Reading The Independent editorial a century hence made me laugh. Then I caught myself doing hindsight. As a historian, I won’t condemn the mores of people who lived in the past using the lens of my time, the beginning of the 21st century. This obscure, trivial editorial from 1924 should be forgotten, but gives us perspective. If one reads, early 17th-century Spanish accounts of the Philippines, you will be surprised to note that they were not scandalized by dirty dancing but by the Filipino penchant for daily baths! History has been described as a “foreign country” because people in the past seem alien to us in the present. History is not meant to be memorized for a quiz, it is supposed to be enjoyed as a story that shows us how much we have progressed or declined since a given period in the past.

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TAGS: academics, education, History, opinion, young age

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