October 25, 1919: Police set out to enforce Police Chief Murphy’s order to ban Duluthians from dancing the “Shimmy”

On this day in Duluth in 1919, police officers set out to enforce Chief John Murphy’s ban on dancing the Shimmy,” but found no violators. The chief had announced the plan two days earlier, setting down some rules: 1. Dancers must keep moving, and not stand still on the floor and “shake and shimmy.” 2. Neither shall they wriggle like a snake while turning the corners of the dance floor or otherwise. 3. They must not raise their hands above their heads; calisthenics are out of place on the dance floor, and 4. They must not rub cheeks; that is, dancing cheek to cheek.” Murphy admitted he didn’t “know one dance from another,” the Duluth News Tribune reported, “but if they shake the ‘shimmy’ the way they say it’s done, I wonder that the safety pins and buttons don’t give way altogether. He added, “If there is any loving to be made there are other places besides a dance hall.” While no violators were found in Duluth, concern spread. Superior High School banned the shimmy from its regular Thursday afternoon dance parties, and the Proctor Village Council passed an ordinance banning ‘silly and suggestive vulgar dances.” Not everyone agreed with the bans, and many found them sillier than the dance itself. The Superior Rotary Club even had its sergeant-at-arms, J. B. Holt, demonstrate the dance so they could judge for themselves. While the newspaper said Holt’s demonstration “was not the real honest to goodness ‘shimmie’ with grapevine arm movement, it was as near as Mr. Holt could make it.” He received a round of applause. Others thought Murphy’s ban was actually a plot to promote elicit dance. Calling Murphy’s ban a “campaign of evil forces” Rev. George Brewer of Duluth’s First Presbyterian Church worried in a sermon that the Chief’s ban was actually intended to help advertise the dance halls. Other communities across the nation also banned the dance. Click here to watch a video of people—and an elephant—dancing the shimmy in the 1920s.

Joan Crawford dances the Shimmy in the 1928 Academy Award nominated film Our Dancing Daughters. (Image: Public Domain)