Castles and Cathedrals: A story of ballroom dancing, social revolutionaries, unexpected heroes, and the magic of public libraries

Vernon and Irene Castle were ballroom dancers of the Vaudeville era. In the first part of the 20th century, they revolutionized the idea of social dancing by making it respectable for partners to dance – in public – to ragtime music. The “Grizzly Bear,” “Bunny Hug,” and
“Turkey Trot,” and the music that accompanied those dances, were considered scandalous by “good” society until this attractive, sophisticated, and very married couple opened a dance studio in New York City and showed the elite of New York society how to cut a rug. Their attitudes were modern: They performed exclusively with a handpicked, all-African-American ragtime orchestra. Their commercial success was legendary: In 1914, their product endorsements and public appearances earned them more than $5000 a week. Their story has unexpected detours into the shadows of ragtime, the glittery world of fame and fortune, and the battlefields of World War I. But the real hero of this intriguing tale is the public library system whose resources make their story come to life.

This program does not require any special AV support.
The program includes information about the following:

1. Social dance in the US in the early 20th century;
2. The coincidences and series of events that led Vernon and Irene Castle to redefine social dancing from 1914 – 1916;
3. Ragtime music and musicians;
4. Air combat in World War I (Vernon Castle enlisted with the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and was killed in a training flight);
5. The role of public libraries in providing primary source material for historical research.

Humanities disciplines addressed by this program include: American musical history, American history, and biography.