The Dangers of Jazz Dancing

Do you feel like the world is speeding up around you?  Like society has gotten so crazy you can’t keep up? You’re not the first! An article in the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star on August 12, 1934, talks about social health hazards of the time.

“Want to live longer? DON’T dance rapidly. It is harmful. DON’T listen to too much jazz music. DON’T wear brightly colored clothes. DON’T tire yourself out with strenuous beach games. DON’T overindulge in food or drink.”

This cartoon appeared with the article in the Sunday Lincoln Journal and Star on August 12, 1934, illustrating Dr. Adler's advice

The article opens with advice from Dr. Wolf Adler, a “noted nerve specialist.” Dr. Adler gives the above suggestions for summer weather, believing they are quite damaging to the nervous system. The risk comes from overstimulation of glands all over the body. What glands he is referring to is not specific, but Dr. Adler declares that exciting them can prove detrimental to ones’ health.

“When overstimulation occurs in the civilized man or woman, he often has no rational way of reaction, bound as he is by conventions, laws and his own ideas of right and wrong. His nerve centers are disturbed in a manner which does not help him adjust himself to the ideals of a civilized state, and such over-stimulation may have not only temporary but permanent results.”

Doctor Adler was not the only professional who felt so strongly about a fast-paced society. Dr. George W. Crile declared that “all mankind may become extinct if our present high-speed rate of living is maintained.” Dr. Crile linked the stressful energy specifically to the thyroid and adrenal glands, the brain and the inter-connecting nerves. The article states such damage is caused by activities like listening to jazz music, driving a car too fast, and dancing to “mad rhythms.”

Sunday Lincoln Journal and Star, August 12, 1934

Well-known bandleader Paul Whiteman, whom the article calls a “maestro of jazz,” disagreed with the doctors. “It’s not the music or the dancing, it’s the heat! Heat like this will ruin any one’s nervous system. The doctors should not blame the high speed of living today on the music; the music of a nation reflects the life of the nation…just plain, ordinary heat and humidity can give the old nervous system a worse shaking up than a hundred popular dance tunes.”

Dance instructor Arthur Murray agreed only partially with Adler and Crile. “I agree with Dr. Adler in so far as his objects to strenuous activities and the wild frenzy of beach games often astounds me, but dancing is quite a different matter.” Murray believed certain kinds of dancing were therapeutic. Dancing to “…the soft music of some of our popular songs… one can almost feel one’s nerves quieting down and the best of one’s heart reflecting the easy smoothness of a good dance orchestra.” Murray also felt that Adler exaggerated on the effect of bright colors. “Red, cerise, purple, combined with brilliant sunlight, may indeed prove shattering to the nervous system through the effect of the brilliance of the colors on the eyes, but in the house the brighter colors have a more soothing effect.”

No wonder Husker games are so enthusiastic. All that red clothing outdoors is shattering nervous systems left and right!

The only point on which all four men agreed was that the pace of modern life was much too fast. “I will agree that persons are living too fast,” said Whiteman, “the noise of the cities, the rush, the hurry and the heat are disturbing factors.”

“High-speed living,” said Murray, “yes, one might call it a serious menace to health and nerves…”

As a remedy to the hazardous speed of life, Dr. Adler promoted slow music and swimming, even dance if it is done in moderation and slowly. But for people who “pour themselves out as water” he felt there was no immediate solution, stating: “The less one does, the more vitality one has.”

- Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant

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