The Apache Dance

La Danse Apache

I had heard of the “Apache dance”, but didn’t know much about it, until I ran across this youtube video:

It’s a humorous setting for a dance that isn’t meant to be funny. But the acrobatic moves do give it a circus-like quality. I saw some other versions on youtube that were done by professionals, but with less energy. It’s interesting that the rougher they are with each other, the better it is.

From wikipedia;

Apache is a highly dramatic dance associated in popular culture with Parisian street culture in the beginning of the 20th century. The name of the dance (pronounced ah-PAHSH, not uh-PATCH-ee, like the English pronunciation of the Native American tribe) is taken from a Parisian street gang, which in turn was named for the American Indian tribe due to the perceived savagery of the hoodlums. The term came to be used more generally to refer to certain vicious elements of the Paris underworld at the beginning of the 20th century.
The dance is sometimes said to reenact a violent “discussion” between a pimp and a prostitute. It includes mock slaps and punches, the man picking up and throwing the woman to the ground, or lifting and carrying her while she struggles or feigns unconsciousness. Thus, the dance shares many features with the theatrical discipline of stage combat. In some examples, the woman may fight back.

There are quite a few versions on youtube. This next one has a great twist; Jimmy Durante in drag playing the woman’s part. (clearly, the long shots have a stand-in)

Buster Keaton also played the female part in this example.

Here is yet another twist, with the roles reversed, and the woman is beating up the man, in this case, the clownish Ben Blue.

Disney included a Danse Apache in the 1937 Silly Symphony Woodland Cafe.

This example from Popeye is not really an Apache, but the way Bluto mishandles Olive Oyl it could well have been inspired by it.

Here is another one.  The dance starts just after a minute, but it’s fun before hand too.

Finally, this is a very serious version of the Apache, and from 1910, I assume it is as authentic as we can see.

Leonard Barr dances

The fellow’s name is Leonard Barr. He was an actor, comedian, and dancer. He was also the real-life uncle of Dean Martin. This is not a highly skilled dance, as much as it is very funny walks set to music.

And a fun remix:

Betsy Baytos on dance in animation

Betsy Baytos and Ward Kimball.

I am pleased to re-post my first guest blogger Betsy Baytos. Betsy is an animator, and an expert in dance, specifically the art of eccentric dance.  Tonight, August 5, Betsy is presenting The Choreography of Comedy at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Los Angeles. I very much wish I could be there. HERE IS A LINK to the event, in case tickets are still available. And HERE IS A LINK to a great introductory video that I am unable to embed. but is great fun. Scroll back through my recent posts to see more videos of eccentric dancers.

When I was first hired as a trainee at the Disney Studios at age 18, I had no idea how animation worked. But my early background in dance proved to be a bonus while working with my mentor, the great Eric Larson, one of Disney’s ‘nine old men’. Not knowing any better, I would physically work out the movement, (always dance), for the required personal tests. This instinctive ability to translate my extreme flexibility into cartoon characters, was a match made in heaven, and I was soon hired as a full-time in-betweener on ‘The Rescuers’ while assigned to a veteran animator that best suited my style, the amazing Cliff Nordberg (Three Little Pigs, alligators in Peter Pan, Evinrude in The Rescuers,etc.), renown for his most over-the-top, character-driven animation in our most memorable animated cartoons.

Walt Disney and Buddy Ebson

 Walt Disney doing a few steps with Buddy Ebsen.

 I had just discovered and was studying eccentric dance and immediately saw a powerful connection. What astonished me most, was the process in creating character, building a gag and making a step funny, was virtually parallel between the eccentric dancer and the animator. Their language was identical! I could not wait to get back to Disney and tell Eric, who only chuckled and mentioned these dancers were a staple of animators, as inspiration for many animated characters from its early beginnings. It made perfect sense, as Winsor McCay, an early pioneer in animation, toured the vaudeville circuit in 1906 as an animated chalk talk act, followed in 1914, with a stage performance teamed with his Gertie the Dinosaur, at that time ground-breaking, as one of the first developed personalities in a cartoon. Sharing the bill with the top eccentric dancers and witnessing their cartoonesque, exaggerated movement, must have ignited ‘character’ ideas as it had many other aspiring animators. I had to learn more and was stunned when learning my ‘eccentric’ mentor, Gil Lamb, turned out to be the spot-on model for Disney’s Ichabod Crane in “Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and Buddy Ebsen, for Disneyland’s ‘Country Bears’. The link was getting stronger, as Disney artists Ken Anderson and Joe Grant spoke of the tremendous influence Chaplin had in animation. Grant himself, began a career as a Keystone Cop and had used Eddie Cantor and Charlotte Greenwood often as models. The prolific animation historian and writer, John Canemaker, clarified this analogy with his great Documentary short of Otto Messmer, who first translated Charlie Chaplin into an animated character.

An animated Charlie Chaplin was a guest on Felix the Cat.

As animation reflects our times, Chaplin’s ‘tramp’ character was introduced the same time as the animated personality was evolving, and much of Chaplin’s movement was soon emulated by Messmer’s early Felix the Cat character. Vaudeville was a treasure chest of eccentric dancers and visual comedians and a bounty for animators to use as reference in their ‘character’ work and still is. I was still processing all this when the amazing Dixieland Band, the Firehouse Five, comprised of animators Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, and other visiting musicians, began playing outside the commissary during lunchtime. I could not help myself and began executing a rip-roaring charleston on the black-top. At first, a shock to the Disney employees trying to eat lunch as well as the animation staff, it opened up a life-changing opportunity, animation choreography! I was soon working with Don Bluth on ‘Pete’s Dragon’, and dancing as the dragon ‘Elliott’ in the parking lot while tapping into the eccentric ‘character’ process with a foam tail pinned to my arse. I worked again with Bluth in ‘Banjo’, soon after. It was here that Disney allowed me to take an unprecedented ‘leave’, to tour in Will B. Able’s ‘Baggy Pants & Co.’ Vaudeville/Burlesque Show, followed by Jim Henson’s ‘Muppet Show’, upon pleading how this rare opportunity, would only strengthen my animation, which it certainly did!

Upon returning to Disney, I was thrilled to work on my alter-ego and hero, ‘Goofy’, the consummate eccentric dancer, in ‘Mickey’s Christmas Carol’, and then, again teamed with animator Cliff Nordberg, began work on ‘The Fox and the Hound’, animating the owl ‘Big Mama’, and using the broadest character movement we could possibly conjure. It wasn’t long before the great animator Andreas Dejas called me in NY, to stage the ‘character movement’ in ‘The Emperor’s New Groove’. I was one step closer to bringing the eccentric style back into the animated cartoon.

Betsy Baytos and Andreas Dejas

I continued to animate and illustrate, while researching and studying eccentric dance, and when I made the decision to make this documentary, it was vital to film the animators themselves, discussing the eccentric dancer’s role in the evolution of animation.

Many are represented well in ‘FUNNY FEET’…Richard Fleischer, son of Max Fleisher and a renown Director (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Dr. Doolittle) spoke of his uncle Dave Fleischer, a great comic dancer in his own right, as the model for the first rotoscoped character (1915), ‘Koko the Clown’. Richard spoke of his sister, (then dating a young Ray Bolger), ‘eccentric dance’ act where she popped on and off the screen, and how his father, who loved eccentric dance, most likely modeled Olive Oyl from legmania dancer Charlotte Greenwood. Animator Myron Waldman’s interview details watching vaudeville/burlesque shows while creating Betty Boop and Popeye, and how Cab Calloway was the model for the ‘old man in the mountain’ and other characters.
Chuck Jone’s interview was wonderful, detailing how he studied Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy and Keaton, but professed how Groucho’s walk became a signature in creating Bugs Bunny!

Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston spoke a great deal about the physical comedians influence in their own work, specifically citing Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Red Skelton, and Buddy Ebsen. Ward Kimball elaborated on always searching for new walks and how animator Art Babbitt’s defining 360-degree walk for Goofy, made him a star, and how Steppin’ Fetchitt and Keaton played an enormous role in the development of Goofy’s ‘character movement’ and personality.
Joe Barbera, of ‘Hannah Barbara’ provided incredible details on teaming Gene Kelly with Tom & Jerry, and later, on their ground-breaking collaboration for ‘Invitation To The Dance’. Al Hirschfeld, the renown NY Times caricaturist eloquently spoke of observing, then capturing in line art, all the great eccentrics that graced the NY stage, and how Bolger specifically, was inspired in his own movement by Hirschfeld’s illustrations.
And the tradition continues, as the next generation of animators,(Andreas Dejas, Eric Goldberg and others) understand the importance of observing and tapping into these great ‘cartoon’ eccentric dancers. It all came full circle when the talented animation Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, Little Mermaid) approached me to bring the eccentric tradition into their next animated feature, ‘The Princess and the Frog’! I was thrilled to have the opportunity to again work with a wonderful animation team, and especially, to introduce this history, a precursor to their own work, to the next generation of incredible hip hop, break-dancers today.
The surprise was instantaneous and I pushed them hard to capture the extreme movement necessary for animation. The reaction of the Cal Arts animation classes I instructed, was the same.
‘FUNNY FEET’ can help me imagine a dream to strengthen the relationship between dance and animation, training the two genres to inspire each other once again!

Wilson and Keppel – Sand Dance.

It’s not so common anymore, but most of us have seen a character doing a stylized Egyptian dance.  That dance is derived from the sand dance, done by a trio of music hall performers. Here is the Wikipedia intro to Wilson and Keppel and Betty.

Wilson, Keppel and Betty were a popular British music hall act in the middle decades of the 20th century who capitalised on the trend for Egyptian imagery following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun. Their stage act, called the “sand dance”, was a parody of Egyptian postures, combined with references to Arabic costume. The lithe and extremely lanky Wilson and Keppel, who wore long mustaches and make up to emphasize the sharp angularity of the features so as to appear almost identical, would demonstrate their impressive suppleness in adopting wild gestures and dancing in identical “stereo” movements (using gestures vaguely reminiscent of Egyptian wall paintings), while Betty watched their antics. Theirs was a soft-shoe routine performed on a layer of sand spread on the stage to create a rhythmic scratching with their shuffling feet. The act was usually performed to the familiar Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini.

And here is a video of them doing the dance.

Dancing so bad it’s funny

I am a big fan of eccentric dancing. Usually, eccentric dancing requires a high degree of skill.  But there are some great examples that are funny because of how bad it is.  I am talking here about professionals who dance to get laughs. This is bad dancing, not dancing badly. There are hours of real life bad dancers on Youtube, but those are just poor imitations of other dances.  I am looking for someone who created a specific style of dance so it will look ridiculous.

These dances have two things in common.  They look like they could be done by anybody, and they have tremendous enthusiasm. I would love to see someone animate a dance cycle that could make me laugh like these do.

We’ll let Julia Louis-Dreyfus get this bad dance party started.

Then there is Martin Short as Ed Grimley

Groucho Marx was primarily a verbal comedian, but he had some physical comedy chops for sure.  Particularly with dancing.

Here is a video with a selection of his creative moves.

Jim Carrey in a tutu was a famous one.

This is comedian Nathan Barnatt, also making use of the knees going in opposite directions.

Finally, the great Rowan Atkinson as Mr. Bean.

%d bloggers like this: