Sepia Saturday 390: Seventh in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.
When I was a teenager, my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence taught me to dance the Charleston. I figured she learned it from her peers during the 1920s — when she sported a short “flapper” haircut and rebelliously eloped with my grandfather.
Yet it’s possible Liz was coached years earlier by her talented, quick-stepping Uncle John H. Stoutner.
In his late twenties, he was also an award-winning ballroom dancer!
A coveted prize
My first hint of Uncle John’s acumen on the dance floor was the Aug. 19, 1895 newspaper article below from the Gloverville Daily Leader about the Booth & Company annual picnic.
The lively story describes a sudden thunderstorm that sent everyone running for cover. Then — once the clouds parted — there was a dance contest in a pavilion so crowded the judges could barely make their way around.
Despite the crush that “considerably incommoded” the dancers, Uncle John managed to make an impression because he was awarded the “first gentleman’s prize” for waltz — a set of pearl opera glasses.
The “first lady’s prize,” a gold chain, went to Miss Nellie Dodge — but the article doesn’t say whether she was Uncle John’s dance partner.
A seasoned dance enthusiast
The waltzing competition was one of the highlights of the annual Booth & Co. picnic –along with tug-of-war contests and other sporting events that were detailed in the full article.
Alas, no photo of Uncle John. But he must have been waltzing for some time if he was good enough to come in first among all the men who swept their partners around the dance floor.
I wondered whether his German heritage influenced his choice of dance style. An article by competitive ballroom dancer Patsy Holden in American Ethnography Semimonthly had this to say about the waltz:
Beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing into the early twentieth century, the Waltz enjoyed almost exclusive popularity in the ballrooms of both Europe and America. The Waltz, which is from the German word “walzen” and means “to revolve,” describes a graceful and romantic couple’s dance in ¾ time.
Regardless of how my grandmother’s Uncle John became a dance enthusiast, he clearly continued to cultivate his talent after winning the waltz prize. Because four years later a Daily Leader article, dated Sept. 27, 1899, announced that Professor John Stoutner had opened a dance school!
More on this new revelation in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.
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