Thursday, 17 January 2013

All Things To All Ranks - Punch 1925

My second Punch cartoon is from 1925. The cartoonist is Lewis Baumer, again. He seems to have been interested in dancing. His drawings are very lively and believable.

My photograph of the book is pretty poor, here, but I think you can get the gist. The title reads:

ALL THINGS TO ALL RANKS - How to dance with ...

And the captions are, in ascending order of officer seniority:  top left, "A Subaltern", top right "A Captain", bottom left "A Major", and bottom right "A Colonel". The same young woman is shown dancing with each.

All Things To All Ranks - Punch, 1925
A lot of the social context and humour is lost to time in this one, but what interests me is that the dancing technique shown generally looks very much more similar to well-known variations of what I know as tango than it does to the vase-of-flowers embrace in what is now usually called 'ballroom' dancing. The exception is the bottom left picture, where the frame they've adopted looks much more like West Coast Swing, but the footwork doesn't.

There are four quite different frames or embraces here. The woman has a practical and adaptable range of skills for social following - perhaps exaggerated, since that's the point of the cartoon. Of course, she's generally adapting her posture and behaviour in relation to which of the men could be regarded as possible mates, but a big part of how that manifests itself is the couple's choice of dance technique. (My impressions are that the subaltern is a plausible mate of her own age; the captain is not impossible, but competence and acquitting herself well are the main concerns; an certain modesty is required with the major, who is not suitable; but the colonel is senior enough that a daughterly or granddaughterly affection is wholly appropriate). [Update: see comments for some interesting remarks on expectations of behaviour for the men, by an anonymous commenter described as an active army officer.]

There's nothing to tell me whether these four pictures represent different 'dances' - likely to be chosen by military officers of different seniority to dance with such a young lady - or not. But I take this cartoon as evidence that this practical and adaptable range of skills was quite widespread in the level of society accustomed to read Punch. I wonder whether the technique and the content of specific dances for specific kinds of music were so strongly differentiated in 1925 as they later became.


Anonymous said...

You interpretation on acceptable behaviour across the ranks is most interesting and mostly accurate. However, allow me, as an active army officer, to add something:

As a subaltern, something like a cadet, you are expected to behave and very strictly so. I get the impression that the subaltern is somewhat timid, which is consistent with the standard.

After two years or so, although possibly not an commissioned officer yet, you are expected to _mis_behave, to test limits, get drunk and to chase all available girls. (Perhaps not exactly your generals youngest daughter, although this occasionally happens and is then left for the wives and mothers respectively to clear out, i.e., they sometimes clear out their daughters, sometimes their husbands, sometimes both.)

Later, as a second and eventually first lieutenant, you should act a tad more responsible, although with the latter, pushing limits to far might raise an eyebrow (and a ruffle). The status of being an officer normally compensates for not being allowed to wholeheartedly embrace any stupid idea. The second drawing would from my point of view represent that group more accurately.

Having reached the rank of captain and beyond, the pay rises, but you are then indeed expected to be serious, responsible and to refrain from all the things that makes a military party so much fun (let your imagination run freely). With high divorce rates among military personal, the majors might be on the prowl again, though.

With the colonels, well ... let's just say that if they are under their wives supervision, the representation may be accurate. Although you might be surprised how a colonel with a mentally young wife or partner may look on a roaring party ... from a certain point, some just don't care about their career anymore and do not have any problem with the world knowing it. That's sometimes pretty cool.

Carole said...

that's interesting and makes me want to see if I can sell an article to fund the research..

Anonymous said...

Anonymous active army officer, if there's any chance of a echat I would love to ask you some more questions about propriety and dance as this would make an excellent article. I would be happy to guarantee anonymity but your insight would be invaluable

msHedgehog said...

@AnonymousArmyOfficer: that's extremely interesting, thanks for your long and thoughtful comment. I confined myself to the woman's behaviour and point of view, because that was the only part I felt any confidence in interpreting, so your contribution adds a lot. I find the two interpretations totally compatible, and it makes the cartoon much funnier, especially the subaltern and the colonel.