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Regulating the "Dance Hall Habit"

In the early 1900s, there was a great deal of concern over the appropriateness of public dancing as a form of social recreation, especially as the Jazz Age began. Many community groups, such as the Girls' Advisory Council and the Women's Civic Welfare Club, opposed dancing in public halls because it placed impressionable young women in moral jeopardy. It was not uncommon to see headlines in the local newspapers denouncing dance: "Charleston Barred by Oakland Police Chief," "St. Louis Hop on Blacklist," "Progressive Jitterbug Activities Protested" and "Shimmee Banned at Stanford." A 1924 report on the dance halls of San Francisco by the California Civic League of Women Voters lamented, "In the course of 10 years almost 25 percent of our young people have acquired the dance hall habit, with all that it implies of poverty of self-expression, of physical lassitude, of lack of ingenuity and capacity to enjoy recreations of a richer content."

As a result of public pressure, local governments established laws and committees to supervise dance hall activities. Every dance, whether held in a hotel ballroom, under the stars in a public park or in an established dance hall, had to be licensed by the city in order to operate legally. These were some of the governing regulations in San Francisco.

• No one under the age of 18 was allowed to be in a dance hall without a chaperone.
• Marathon dance contests were strictly prohibited.
• Masquerade balls could be held only with the written consent of the chief of police.
• Dance halls could not operate after 2 a.m.
• Taxi dances were strictly prohibited. ("Taxi dance" refers to a males-only club where girls were paid to dance. The term arose from the fact that the female dance partners were hired, like taxis, for a short period of time.)
• No dances could be held on Sunday afternoons without special permission from the chief of police.

In addition, the San Francisco Police Commission adopted a ruling that every proprietor of a public dance hall must put a female supervisor in the hall and pay her a salary of $75 per month. These supervisors, often called "Mother" by the regulars who danced under their watchful eyes, were required to submit daily reports to the police department.

Next: Sweets
With the early influence of Vernon and Irene Castle, and later Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, social dancing became a more accepted and respectable form of entertainment for young ladies and gentlemen. In San Francisco, dancers could choose from a variety of happening spots, from the elegant St. Francis Hotel to the lively Edgewater Ballroom out on the Great Highway. Most of the ballrooms and dance halls were clustered on Market Street near Union Square. They included the Balconades (later Wolohans) at 1319 Market; the Pergola at 949 Market; the Palamar (briefly the Palladium) at 1621 Market; the Trianon (later the Primalon) at 1223 Fillmore; and the Edgewater Ballroom at 660 Great Highway.

One of the better-known clubs was the El Patio Ballroom at 1545 Market, which billed itself as "America's Finest Ballroom." It was later rechristened the Carousel Ballroom, then became the world-famous Fillmore West when Bill Graham took it over in 1968. Throughout the rock 'n' roll era, bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin appeared regularly at the large and graceful hall once known as El Patio.

The Avalon Ballroom at 1268 Sutter St. prided itself on having "Music As You Like It" when it was a glamorous destination for dancing. Originally built in 1911, the Avalon featured an L-shaped balcony, gilded booths, graceful columns and a sprung wooden dance floor. In the 1960s, the Avalon became a well-known venue for psychedelic rock 'n' roll, housing concerts by the Grateful Dead, Steppenwolf, Santana and Janis Joplin.

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