We once jitterbugged the nights away at USO canteens

March 27, 1992|By Stephanie Shapiro | Stephanie Shapiro,Staff Writer

As a dance historian, Chrystelle Trump Bond understands that nearly every war has its footwork. During the American Revolution: "We danced like crazy, she says. And during the Civil War: "Dancing didn't stop."

World War II was no exception. Big band swing music brought the war effort to the dance floor, where it literally became a patriotic duty to do the jitterbug.

Tomorrow at the Maryland Historical Society, Ms. Bond, chairman of the Goucher College dance department, will talk about jitterbugging in the 38 United Service Organizations'(USO) clubs that became the hub of wartime social life throughout the state. Following her discussion, Ms. Bond and the Choreographie Antique, the dance history ensemble of Goucher College, will re-create the jitterbug, foxtrot, rumba, victory polka, Paul Jones and conga as they were danced in Baltimore USO canteens. Ms. Bond's presentation is part of a day-long conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of World War II at the historical society.

Drawing from such sources as the archives of the Baltimore YWCA, the Historical Society, and former USO hostesses, Ms. Bond was able to describe local manifestations of what was a national mania. She learned that the Curtis Bay Coast Guard Yard band was "the most popular orchestra" at the USO Club on West Monument Street, and that Evening in Paris was the perfume favored by local hostesses.

Ms. Bond also found that Maryland USO clubs and their civilian counterparts were set up for everyone involved in the war effort. Officers and enlisted men had their own clubs, and did not socialize. Black soldiers were forced to attend segregated USO clubs. Dances for defense workers took place at night and early in the morning for those on the late shift.

The jitterbug reigned as the favorite activity at most USO clubs, Ms. Bond found. Carefully screened hostesses were urged to learn the latest dance steps and to make even the loneliest soldiers feel at home.

As they danced, the men and women of the era built "that spirit of victory known as morale without which no war is ever won," according to a Dance magazine Ms. Bond uncovered.

Using Arthur Murray dance manuals, vintage recordings and photos, Ms. Bond reconstructed the most popular dances of the era. In period clothing, Choreographie Antique will swing to "I Lost My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen," "In the Mood" and "He's 1-A in the Army and He's A-1 in My Heart."

Tomorrow's conference, "The Home Front: Maryland and World War II," celebrates Maryland Day, and includes lectures on Baltimore's role in World War II shipbuilding, the Baltimore bombers built at the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company and a discussion of life in wartime Baltimore.

The conference takes place from 9:30 a.m. through late afternoon at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 W. Monument St. The conference is free with museum admission: $2.50 for adults, $1.50 for seniors, $1 for children. Family discounts are available for $5.50. Call 685-3750 for more information.

The Maryland Historical Society will also present "In the Mood," a nostalgic revue of World War II big band music, at 8 p.m., April 4 and 2:30 p.m., April 5. Call 685-3750.

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