The Dangers of Jazz Dancing

This cartoon appeared with the article in the Sunday Lincoln Journal and Star on August 12, 1934, illustrating Dr. Adler’s advice

“Want to live longer? DON’T dance rapidly. It is harmful. DON’T listen to too much jazz music. DON’T wear brightly colored clothes. DON’T tire yourself out with strenuous beach games. DON’T overindulge in food or drink.” This caption appeared in the Lincoln Sunday Journal and Star on August 12, 1934, as part of an article discussing the dangers of high-speed living.

The article opened with advice from Dr. Wolf Adler, a “noted nerve specialist.” Dr. Adler gave the above suggestions for summer weather, believing such activities to be quite damaging to the nervous system. The risk comes from overstimulation of glands all over the body. What glands he was referring to wasn’t specific, but Dr. Adler declared that exciting them could prove detrimental to ones’ health.

“When overstimulation occurs in the civilized man or woman, he often has no rational way of reaction, bound as he is by conventions, laws and his own ideas of right and wrong. His nerve centers are disturbed in a manner which does not help him adjust himself to the ideals of a civilized state, and such over-stimulation may have not only temporary but permanent results.”

Doctor Adler was not the only professional who felt so strongly about a fast-paced society. Dr. George W. Crile declared that “all mankind may become extinct if our present high-speed rate of living is maintained.” Dr. Crile linked the stressful energy specifically to the thyroid and adrenal glands, the brain and the inter-connecting nerves. The article states such damage is caused by activities like listening to jazz music, driving a car too fast, and dancing to “mad rhythms.”

Sunday Lincoln Journal and Star, August 12, 1934

Well-known bandleader Paul Whiteman, whom the article calls a “maestro of jazz,” disagreed with the doctors. “It’s not the music or the dancing, it’s the heat! Heat like this will ruin any one’s nervous system. The doctors should not blame the high speed of living today on the music; the music of a nation reflects the life of the nation…just plain, ordinary heat and humidity can give the old nervous system a worse shaking up than a hundred popular dance tunes.”

Dance instructor Arthur Murray agreed only partially with Adler and Crile. “I agree with Dr. Adler in so far as his objects to strenuous activities and the wild frenzy of beach games often astounds me, but dancing is quite a different matter.” Murray believed certain kinds of dancing were therapeutic. Dancing to “…the soft music of some of our popular songs… one can almost feel one’s nerves quieting down and the best of one’s heart reflecting the easy smoothness of a good dance orchestra.” Murray also felt that Adler exaggerated on the effect of bright colors. “Red, cerise, purple, combined with brilliant sunlight, may indeed prove shattering to the nervous system through the effect of the brilliance of the colors on the eyes, but in the house the brighter colors have a more soothing effect.”

No wonder Husker games are so enthusiastic. All that red clothing outdoors is shattering nervous systems left and right!

The only point on which all four men agreed was that the pace of modern life was much too fast. “I will agree that persons are living too fast,” said Whiteman, “the noise of the cities, the rush, the hurry and the heat are disturbing factors.”

“High-speed living,” said Murray, “yes, one might call it a serious menace to health and nerves…”

As a remedy to the hazardous speed of life, Dr. Adler promoted slow music and swimming, even dance if it is done in moderation and slowly. But for people who “pour themselves out as water” he felt there was no immediate solution, stating: “The less one does, the more vitality one has.”

Joy Carey, Editorial Assistant, Publications

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

You May Also Enjoy

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address – March 4, 2011

The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address – March 4, 2011

Marker Monday: Mari Sandoz

Marker Monday: Mari Sandoz

How ‘Equality Before the Law’ became our state motto

How ‘Equality Before the Law’ became our state motto

About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Listen to our Podcast

Listen to the articles and authors published in the Nebraska History Magazine with our new Nebraska History Podcast.

Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.