The earliest known recording of the “pajama swing,” one of the first forms of dance to become famous in the U.S. (a type of swing known as “dance” is typically made by holding the arms closed and rolling a dance partner through the air, with the partner being moved by the movements of the participant), was made in 1862 for a ballroom dance performance at Harvard University by the American Ballet, according to the University of Nebraska.
It was also made by a ballroom dance instructor named Edith Scharff and her school’s faculty of dance, according to Elizabeth F. Lutman, editor of the Ballroom Journal, a journal of dancing published by the University of Nebraska in 1915.
The dance itself took place in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and it was the style of swing that evolved from it, according to Nancy Hirsch, associate professor of history and classics at the University of Iowa, and author of the book “The Dance and Ballroom Dance Traditions of Wisconsin: 1912-1958.”
Scharff herself died in the mid-1950s, but her granddaughter Eilish has collected dozens of letters, diaries, photographs, photographs, and other materials she says show how her grandma perfected a style of ballroom dance that was popular in the late 1800s.
Scharff was born Ellen Lutman in a wealthy Chicago family around 1860, but she grew up poor and attended a boarding school in Wisconsin, according to Hirsch, whose work appears in The Dance and Ballroom Dance Traditions of Wisconsin: 1912-1958 (University of Nebraska Press)
Scharff’s father was a successful attorney who had a reputation as the most attractive man in Chicago, she said by phone. “Edith Scharff may have been a model student who always looked good, but also a shy and reserved child,” she said.
Scharff attended the University of Illinois but dropped out because of its small size, Lutman said. She then went to work in Chicago’s theater district “in a room with a piano, piano players, and all kinds of music,” Lutman said. During her time there, she met up with an older man who was a traveling actor who, she said, introduced her to dance and ballroom dancing.
He taught her the art of rhythm and dance, Lutman said, and he encouraged her to work with him, but the two
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