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The Foxy Foxtrot

by Sandi & Dan Finch

There are many stories about how the Foxtrot came to be named. One links the name to the Missouri Foxtrotter, a horse with a particularly smooth way of traveling. Another says the name came from the fox because of its unique gait, moving with its feet under its body on a single track.

Harry FoxBut the consensus credits Harry Fox, a vaudeville comedian and dancer born in Pomona, who in 1913 was performing in the Ziegfeld Follies at the Amsterdam Theater in New York, doing a routine that included fast, trotting steps.

The real story jumped out at us recently from a first-person article in a 1951 ballroom dance magazine. The article was headlined “The Night Foxtrot Was Born.” Yes, it did apparently begin with Harry Fox. In the article, Oscar Duryea wrote that he was hired by Ziegfeld to introduce Harry’s routine to the diners one night at the supper club on the roof garden of the theater.

In a 1960 postscript article by Duryea’s daughter, Dorothea Ohl, written eight years after he died, she explained that Ziegfeld was trying to introduce in the United States the European idea of combining dancing and dining. Until then, Americans went out to eat and listen to music at supper clubs and went other places to dance. The idea wasn’t catching on; at Ziegfeld’s theater club after the evening performances, a band played and played but the patrons didn’t get up to dance. Duryea’s job was to get the diners up.

A dance instructor by day, Duryea wrote that he was to dance among the dinner tables with the girls from the Follies whenever the band played Harry’s music. “Every time we danced, I asked the customers to join in and dance the same steps,” he wrote. “After running around, turning this way and that, always on the run, with maybe the 12th or 13th girl, I remember I was tired.” So, he recalls, he said to the next girl “Let’s do some of this in half time, even if they cut our pay in half.” The partner agreed. “It’s too fast for these tired businessmen anyway,” he quoted her. So, they walked a few steps and ran a few steps. And got the diners to join them on the floor.

In 1914, Duryea said he was called to London to teach his version of the Foxtrot at a convention of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (the keepers of the esteemed ISTD syllabus). He said they liked it so much, they hired him to stay over for a week after the convention for further instruction.

So goes the story of the fox trot, first called Harry Fox’s Trot, then Fox’s Trot and then simply Foxtrot.



From a club newsletter prepared by Dan and Sandi Finch , March 2014, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, February 2016.



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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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