In 1914, a vaudevillian originally from San Francisco who had made his way to the New York theaters after the 1906 earthquake, debuted a trotting dance with his “American Beauties” review to the beat of ragtime music. As it turns out, Harry Fox was on to something. Some sources contend that the foxtrot was already being danced in the African-American clubs; most sources credit Vernon and Irene Castle with developing the foxtrot into the dance we know today.
The Castles were fascinated by a slower-paced rendition of W. C. Handy’s, “The Memphis Blues,” and their music director, James Europe encouraged them to develop an appropriate dance. Their original name for the new steps was the “Bunny Hug,” a name that they had provided to a magazine reporter, but before the article went to print, they asked that it be changed to “foxtrot,” apparently in honor Harry Fox on whose dance theirs was based.
Arthur Murray standardized the patterns most associated with foxtrot as he incorporated certain elements of tango. Now, of course, there is nothing about the dance that “trots” and it is considered a smooth dance. For this reason, as well as for its romantic elements and longevity in the ballroom, it is sometimes referred to as the “Rolls Royce” of ballroom dances.
Foxtrot began to branch into a slow and fast version. The latter evolved into the quick step.
Foxtrot is most often associated with the big band music from the swing era, but most people (the author included) are surprised to learn that the biggest selling foxtrot recording of all time is Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock.” Record companies often noted what type of dance was to be performed to each song and not knowing what to make of this new-fangled beat labeled it as a foxtrot since that was still the most popular dance in 1954 when the song debuted. (It would not hit #1 until July 1955, however, when it was the theme song for the movie Blackboard Jungle.) “Rock Around the Clock” is generally credited with sales of 25 million copies which not only makes it the biggest foxtrot record ever, but also the largest selling single in the rock era.
One hundred years old and still going strong, the foxtrot remains a very popular dance in ballrooms throughout the United States.