In dance histories the Texas Tommy is a noted but contentious member of the family of 1910s Rag dances. Its disputed geographical origins and the dance’s questionable relationship to the Apache have resulted in inadequate information and in mythologizing about the Texas Tommy, a significant predecessor to the larger genre of Swing dances.
The Texas Tommy was one of the first Rag dances to emerge in mainstream America. The dance first appeared in the slums of the port of San Francisco, known as the Barbary Coast, where sailors, prostitutes, and much of the city’s black population congregated in the unruly dance halls. Stage actors and actresses often took new material from Pacific Street, the center of the Barbary Coast, and used the dances, including the Texas Tommy, in their theatrical shows. Some of these performers eventually took the dance east to New York City’s stages and dance floors, where it immediately became popular with mainstream society. The Texas Tommy possessed appealing, eccentric characteristics for the city dwellers. It represented the naughty, seditious, but alluring Barbary Coast in San Francisco, as well as the dangerous wild west. The Texas Tommy became prevalent on the dance floor and grew to be the dance most closely associated with the new Ragtime music. In New York’s social scene, the dance’s wild, fast, and vigorous movement was particularly seductive to the younger crowd, who ultimately adopted it as a code of rebellion. Having found a national audience, the Texas Tommy left a legacy that ultimately helped initiate and influence the swing dances that followed.
For a complete resource on the Texas Tommy, you can download my thesis on the topic above. It maps the Texas Tommy’s history, chronologically and geographically, while examining the disputes about the dance’s origins, then comparing the similarities and differences between the Texas Tommy and the Apache. Click below to view a video of the original dance.