Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Trianon Ballroom

I apologize for geeking out on the prose thing yesterday. Clearly, too much time on my hands. But today--another tidbit of 1940s December research. Much of this info is from a Chicago historical website devoted to the places and people of Jazz Age Chicago--much more great info there, check it out!

Dancing was a major social activity from the 1920s through the early 1950s, and Chicago supported its fair share of ballrooms. One that makes an appearance in December is the Trianon, a huge, state-of-the-art, beautifully appointed ballroom built in the 1920s on the south side of Chicago. The ballroom was designed to be stunning and elegant, with Louis XVI styled decor in the Grand Salon and a dance floor that could accomodate 3,000 dancers. It appealed to the rising middle class, who appreciated the sophisticated sensibilities and an admission charge they could afford. It drew its patrons from the burgeoning south side, but also from around Chicago with its placement near the L.

The urbane facade was maintained partially through exclusivity and imposement of upper-class ideals on the patrons. Though the motto of the Trianon was democracy--anyone who could pay could enjoy the ballroom--they actually had a whites-only policy and turned African-Americans away. The possibility of interracial dance partners would have, apparently, disrupted the elegant atmosphere. Only white bands were hired by the management. Additionally, the demure environment was enforced by "hosts and hostesses" who monitored the dance floor for "petting and spooning." Dancers were expected to refrain from the "hot" jitterbug styles of dance and to stick with more formal ballroom styles. Perhaps the most interesting rule involved smoking--men were permitted to smoke at the Trianon, but ladies were not. In keeping with traditional gender norms, this would have been considered crude for women.

I liked this little gem so much, and appreciated what it revealed about expectations of gendered behavoir, that it made it into a scene:

"Miss.” One of the tuxedoed hosts hovered next to their table. He stared at
Gloria, but she didn’t see him as she leaned in to hear a salacious joke of
“Miss.” Repeated, louder, it caught her attention.
“Yes?” Gloria turned and gave him one of her coyest smiles.
“I am sorry, but ladies are not permitted to smoke in the Trianon.”
“Oh, but I’ve just started this one. I can finish, can’t I? Then I promise to be a good girl.” She giggled, but her joking didn’t work on the man, certainly a seasoned veteran of flippant women.
“Please put it out immediately, or I will have to ask you to leave.” His voice was gentle as honey, but Emily could see iron control in his face.
“Honestly, it’s ridiculous. The men can smoke all they like, who cares if
the ladies do, too?”
“The establishment. And our patrons prefer a finer atmosphere in which ladies refrain from vulgar behaviors.” As though to emphasize his point, he shifted to reveal a “No Jitterbugging” sign posted near the dance floor.


Sharmon said...

I love that little scene!
And don't apologize for the post on prose, it was great.

Rowenna said...

Thanks Sharmon :)

Miss Rosemary said...

Adorable scene, perfect for the ballroom!