October 24, 2011

The Gangster Dance

Wild. Violent. Acrobatic. Passionate. The Apache dance came from the Paris underworld of the early 20th century and gained international fame primarily in films like Can-Can, Charlie Chan in Paris, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and even an episode of I Love Lucy. The dance was named after Les Apaches, a gangster underworld subculture especially active in Belleville, La Villette, Montmartre, and la Bastille.

The dance is sometimes said to re-enact a violent “discussion” between man and woman, including mock slaps and punches and the man throwing or dragging the woman while she struggles.

Dances in the open-air cafés were not always this dramatic. The guinguettes were also places for a lively waltz, a good meal, and inexpensive drinking, often just outside the taxman’s reach. A poor man’s ball.

To see an Apache dance, visit this site. 

To learn more about Parisian culture after the French Revolution and before the First World War, join the WICE guided visit “Open-air Cafés to Barricades (1814-1914) in the Musée Carnavalet on November 4th. For more information, click here.  

(Thank you to Veronique Kurtz for the information in this post.)