Castle, Vernon (1887–1918) & Castle, Irene Foote (1893–1969) By Cook, Susan C.
During the years 1911–1917, Irene Foote Castle (1893–1969) and her husband Vernon Castle (1887–1918) explicitly marketed ragtime dancing as “modern” to their upper-class and, increasingly, middle-class audiences eager to partake in new kinaesthetic forms of popular culture. Dancers, who previously skipped to the 6/8 marching meter of the two step, began to trot, strut, and glide, taking a step on each beat of syncopated 2/4 meter music long associated with African American culture. Easily learned, these new one-step dances invited improvisation and individual response. Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle, as they called themselves, became the most public proponents of new trotting dances and distinguished their style from those previously associated with working-class consumers, through discursive and embodied associations of modernity, whiteness, class prestige, and restraint. Irene Castle presented new modes of modern femininity through her corset-less fashions, short haircut, and active lifestyle. With the assistance of their agent Elisabeth Marbury, the Castles collaborated with noted African American composer and bandleader James Reese Europe, who composed works for them and whose ensemble accompanied their live performances. Thus while drawing on the “primitive” yet energizing power of syncopated music, the Castles and their self-proclaimed “refined” dance style offered a modernity that promised newfound vitality while maintaining racial hierarchies.