When I first started dancing, I remember a teacher showing us the American Smooth Syllabus and a mysterious dance listed in the far back.
“What’s Peabody?,” we asked.
“Oh, you don’t need to learn Peabody,” our teacher laughed.
And we left it at that.
Years later, at a college competition, I recall Peabody listed in the program as a novelty dance. I made sure to be in the room for the event because I was anxious to find out what the dance looked like. No dice. Not a single couple had registered. When asked, the judges declined to even demonstrate it. “Don’t they know what it is either?,” whispered a dancer next to me.
Peabody is an odd duck, no denying it. It’s one of a variety of dances invented around 1915. (See also such forgotten dances as The Grizzly Bear and The Bunny Hug.) It has a lot in common with Foxtrot and Charleston, which were invented around the same time. It’s a jumpy, energetic dance usually done to ragtime music. It’s danced primarily in outside partner position, rather than a true closed position. For some reason, it managed to stick around while these other fad dances died off. And somehow it managed to get itself canonized in the American Smooth Syllabus.
Here’s a great video that gives you an idea what Peabody looks like (with some Charleston thrown in):
I think it’s rather curious how dances become part of the ballroom canon, and other dances don’t. Peabody is pretty much ignored today, but at one point it must have been taken much more seriously–people clearly danced it socially and, since it’s in the Syllabus, they must have competed it too. Just think–if Fred Astaire had chosen Peabody as his signature dance, we all might be dancing it today.
Just for yucks, here’s The Grizzly Bear. Imagine if THIS fad dance had stuck around: