Academy of Danse Libre

I was a member of the Academy of Danse Libre from 2009 to 2011.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area and touring around the world, we are a vintage dance group that recreate social dance forms of the 19th and early 20th centuries — complete the authentic footwork, attire, dresses, music, and mannerisms of the time. Below are some of the historical periods in our repertoire.

Waltzing in the Victorian Era

The 19th century was the golden era of waltz, where more than 500 variations of the waltz flourished by the end of the century. Only two forms, the circular and box waltz, are typically found in today’s ballroom. Reaching back in history, however, my favorites include the redowas, mazurkas, schottisches, galops, and polkas.

The Academy of Danse Libre in “Philadelphia Schottische Quadrille” circa 1856-1879
Reconstructed and choreographed by Richard Powers
Photographed by Jason Chuang

Cake Walk of the 1890s

At the turn of the 19th century, some high society ballrooms embraced the African American dance, cake walk, perhaps not always realizing the dance had been a mockery by the slaves of the slave owners themselves.

NPR: The Extraordinary Story of Why a ‘Cakewalk’ Wasn’t Always Easy

The Academy of Danse Libre in “Cake Walk Quadrille” of 1899
Reconstructed and choreographed by Richard Powers
Photographed by Jason Chuang

The Ragtime Era

Irene and Vernon Castle, elegant and stylish, created a dance craze in the 1910s and made dancing to ragtime music, originally shunned due to its lower-class roots, acceptable and popular for the middle- and upper-class Americans.

Richard Powers: Social Dances of the Ragtime Era

Laura Nowell, Mike Lin, and the Academy of Danse Libre in “One Step Caper”
Reconstructed and choreographed by Richard Powers
Photographed by Jason Chuang

The Animal Dances

So scandalous were the animal dances, they got banned from Europe to America. That is until the grizzly bears, kangaroos, crab walks, chicken scratches, and pony trots all became everyone’s favorite in the 1910s.

Laura Hill and Trevor Gattis in “Turkey Trot”
Reconstructed and choreographed by Richard Powers
Photographed by Jason Chuang

Tango of 1914 – 1916

“The tango correctly practiced is the essence of the modern soul of dancing, for it is not only a dance, it is a style.” — Vernon Castle

Valerie Baadh, Edoardo Maragliano, and the Academy of Danse Libre in “Rio Tango” circa 1914-1916
Reconstructed and choreographed by Richard Powers
Photographed by Jason Chuang

The Roaring Twenties

The 1920s brought in the charleston, the black bottom, and ushered in the swing era.

The Academy of Danse Libre in “Steamboat Stomp”
Reconstructed and choreographed by Joan Walton
Photographed by Jason Chuang