While I researched and wrote The Joyce Girl, I tried to fully immerse myself in the sights and sounds of the 1920s. Here are some of the dances, tunes and dancers that helped me, thanks to the internet!
TEN TUNES OF THE 1920s
James P Johnson, The Charleston, 1924
This is the original Charleston song, from which the Charleston dance was born. In 1920s Paris, everyone did the Charleston. Lucia Joyce famously taught her father’s friends to dance the Charleston. In The Joyce Girl, I show Lucia teaching Samuel Beckett to Charleston. It’s a scene I created, but one of the few comments Beckett made about Lucia in later life was to commend her dancing.
Annette Hanshaw, You’re the Coffee in my Cream, 1929
This was Lucia Joyce’s favourite tune during this difficult time in her life and she sang and played it repeatedly, often to her father.
Darius Milhaud, La Création du Monde, 1923
Milhaud was the cousin of Lucia’s first admirer, Emile Fernandez. He was very influenced by jazz and wrote this 15-minute ballet score which used jazz elements and was very radical for its time. Lucia danced to this with her dance troupe, and I listened to it over and over as I tried to reconstruct her.
Victoria Spivey, How do they do it that way, 1929
I chose this one because it is very representative of the Blues music that was drifting over from the US, and features the trumpet-playing of the incomparable Louis Armstrong
Josephine Baker, Please Don’t Touch my Tomatoes
Josephine Baker took Paris by storm when she arrived in the early 1920s. She later adopted France as her home country. Lucia would have been familiar with her performances. This is known as her ‘signature’ tune.
Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’, 1929
A classic 1929 song that reflects the mood of the times. Music like this would have filled the clubs of jazz-age Paris.
The California Ramblers, Vo Do Do De O Blues, 1927
Hundreds of artists recorded this catchy song in 1927, making it one of the most popular tunes of the 1920s. Just listening, one is transported into the smoky Paris clubs of the ‘20s. I can imagine Lucia dancing to this song, which was often renamed Crazy Words, Crazy Tune.
Meta Seinemeyer, Un Bel di Vedremo, 1928
The Joyce family loved opera and Mata Seinemeyer was a huge German star in the 1920s. This piece from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, was recorded a year before her untimely death in 1929, aged 33. The Joyce family would have known of her and may have seen her perform.
The Savoy Orpheans, Baby Face, 1926
This band played regularly in London at the Savoy Hotel. This song is perfect for dancing to, and exactly the type of tune I imagined Lucia and Alexander Calder dancing to.
Cole Porter, Let’s Do It, 1928
Cole Porter lived in Paris throughout the 1920s (also studying at the Schola Cantorum) and was known for his flamboyant and scandalous parties.
FIVE DANCE STYLES OF THE 1920s
There were lots of dance styles in the 1920s, considered scandalous at the time because they were often very fast and involved men and women touching. These were five of the most popular:
- The Charleston
- The Bunny Hug
- The Shimmy
- The Lindy Hop
- The Turkey trot (which became the Foxtrot)
You can find examples of them all on YouTube (and a couple below too).
FIVE FAMOUS DANCERS FROM THE 1920s
- Josephine Baker – the ultimate entertainer who danced topless, or dressed in a skirt of bananas. Here she is, doing the Charleston. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBPHceq_6jQ
- Jean Borlin – the principal dancer of the Ballets Suedois which rivalled the Ballets Russes from 1920 – 1925. He mixed his native Swedish folk dance with classical ballet. Borlin later taught Lucia Joyce. He should be better known, but died destitute and addicted to drugs in New York at the age of 37. You can see him (briefly) here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_tEqmGBf2s
- Isadora Duncan- the pioneer of modern, freeform dance. Her dance movement may look simple now, but in her time she was considered revolutionary. She died in France in 1927, but Lucia Joyce learned to dance with her brother, Raymond Duncan, and her sister, Elisabeth Duncan. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq2GgIMM060
- Margaret Morris developed Isadora Duncan’s dance style into the Margaret Morris Movement (MMM) which is still taught today. Lucia trained for several years with Margaret Morris, eventually becoming a qualified teacher of the Margaret Morris Method. They often danced outside, taking the Method into schools, hospitals etc. You can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNMD9uusuqE
- Gilda Gray – a Polish-born flapper famous for popularising a dance called The Shimmy (which she claimed to have invented). You can see it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgE2_AAcVYk
The iconic ballet dancer, Vaslav Nijinsky, was probably the most famous ballet dancer of the early 20th century, but was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1919 and spent the rest of his life in and out of institutions. He and Diaghilev transformed the Ballets Russes to make it the most exciting ballet company in 1920s Paris.