cdn mobile

Changing times

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | May 12,2023 - 08:35 AM

Reading history is an experience in armchair time travel. Going back to a distant past through texts, images, and artifacts is recommended because unlike time travel in sci-fi films, we need not be trapped in there. If at all, history can educate and entertain depending on how much, or how little, people have changed over time. The way we speak, the way we dress, the gadgets we use, even the weather seems different today from yesterday. However, externals do change, but human nature remains very much the same.

In 1926, The Independent ran an article that asked “Is Ballroom Dancing Immoral?” From what I know from friends and relatives, ballroom dancing today is largely the sport of senior citizens. Instead of a gym and weights they use the dance floor, instead of gym instructors or coaches, they have “D.I.,” short for “dance instructor” who can either be male or female depending on the client. Before the pandemic, the function room in our building was booked on a particular day each month when elderly ladies dressed in long gowns and bedecked with the family jewels arrived and were escorted to the venue by their respective D.I.’s with loud shirts and heavily waxed hair. I have not seen them since the pandemic and hope their limbs have not degenerated from atrophy. They would surely find the defense of ballroom dancing from an instructor named J.M.B. Medina relevant.

Medina made clear that the evil of ballroom dancing was not in the dance steps but in the eyes of those who condemned the practice as immoral. Medina explained: “The reason for ugly and improper dancing is because so many people try to dance without proper instruction. They murder the art. They have a wrong conception of what is supposed to be done and how to do it …

“The fact that a small number of misguided individuals have used the dance to express their baser moods is no reason why ballroom dancing as a whole should be condemned. If anything, we must condemn the dancers, not the dance … Do not be misled by the few who abuse the dance … dancing pursued under wrong environment in low class beer or dance halls where dancing of yet the worst type is to be seen nightly—vulgar men and women of the demimonde class, rushing here and there and everywhere over the floor in familiar embraces and in all sorts of antics and contortions of face and figure … They are like Jumping Jacks or mechanical devices. You put a nickel in the slot and the things hop. And the climax is reached when they call this ‘Western Dancing.’”

In prewar times, the Santa Ana Cabaret held the record as the biggest dance hall in the world. Its humble beginnings could be traced to a humble bar in Pasig opened by an Italian named Giovanni Canzana in 1909. Business was good. Canzana Americanized his name into John Canson, sought a bigger space in Tejeros, then on the fringes of Makati, close to the area where the present Inquirer offices now stand to open a bar different from rinky-dink competitors with ”bailarinas” or dance partners for hire by ticketed time periods. The Santa Ana Cabaret grew into a center for Manila social life in the 1930s.

In 1927, The Independent published a bilingual editorial “En nuestros cines” (In our movie houses) that was mistranslated from the original into “Immorality in the movies.” A cartoon accompanied the text, depicting the bespectacled “Batikuling,” the Spanish language writer Jesus Balmori with flashlight in hand, aiming beams of light at couples necking in the darkness of the movie house. Writing in the Spanish language “La Vanguardia” Balmori ranted about: “Immoral pairs who go to the movies, not to see the films, but to be themselves, the characters in an actual story, scandalous and violative of the sense of fitness and modesty of those who are compelled to be near them.”

Public scandal is the book thrown at people caught necking or having sex in cars, even if they are not clearly visible except to the police exercising “hulidap.” The Independent recommended that the Manila Police patrol movie houses and arrest offenders. Movie ushers were to go about discouraging public displays of affection. And if all else failed, more light in movie houses would do the trick.

All these seem silly to us today, proving that the past is indeed a foreign country, they do things differently there.


Comments are welcome at [email protected]

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

Read Next

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of Cebudailynews. We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

TAGS: Dancing, history

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.