About The Academy of Danse Libre

The Academy of Danse Libre was founded in 1996 by a group of 24 intrepid dancers, many of whom were alumni of Stanford's Vintage Dance Ensemble. The name was inspired by the spirit of a group of students in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s, who, with liberated spirits, took the intricate steps that they had learned as children in dancing school and “exploded” them into bounds, kicks, and extravagant capers. Today, as Danse Libre enters its 20th season, the group continues to create vivid pictures of the mayhem and joyful passion of the lively dance halls from days gone by.

Danse Libre brings the vivacious atmosphere of the historical ballroom to the modern audience. We entertain and inspire with dances from the Victorian era, Ragtime era, 1920s, and 1930s. All of our pieces are choreographed to period music and performed in period attire.


The Victorian era, spanning more than sixty years, started with Queen Victoria's ascent to the British throne in 1837. At the outset of the era, when even a glimpse of an ankle was a shocking spectacle, dancing in the embrace of the opposite sex was almost scandalous. As the 19th century progressed, however, more members of high society deigned to try the trend and dancing coupled in “closed position” became increasingly socially acceptable. The romantic sensuality of the waltz was counterbalanced by more playful polkas, mazurkas, schottisches, and galops, with the great “polka mania” hitting Paris and the rest of Europe in 1840. Parlor games also proliferated, in which couples poked fun at traditional social mores with role-reversal and competed for prizes with their antics.


The Ragtime Era, named for America’s first musical genre, extended from roughly 1897-1918. Ragtime (a term derived from “ragged time”) was a descendant of African American jigs and marches. The music made its debut in dance halls long before being printed for piano players. The heavily syncopated tunes were a change from the more stately orchestral music of the previous generation. Lively dances such as the cakewalk, two-step, tango, and foxtrot were innovated or adapted to fit the strong beats in the music. “Animal dances” were also developed to ape animal movements in time to the tunes.


The “Roaring Twenties” were a time of relative prosperity and affluence in the United States. Accelerated urbanization led to a rapid influx of people to the cities and to increased emphasis on modernization. Women displayed progressively more “liberated” behavior, shortening their skirts, cutting their hair, and generously applying cosmetics. With Prohibition firmly in place, back-alley speakeasies and jazz clubs became social outlets rife with alcohol and raucous behavior. “Shocking” dances such as the shimmy, Charleston, black bottom, and bunny hug became increasingly popular in these venues.


As the stock market crash in 1929 brought the “Roaring Twenties” to an abrupt halt, the nation plunged into the Great Depression. The popularization of radio and its myriad channels enabled a sort of escapism from the drudgery of poverty. Swing music’s exposure on the radio helped it gain widespread acceptance by the middle of the decade. The music’s lilting rhythm lent itself to many swing, lindy hop, and shag dance variations. Dances from previous eras (such as the foxtrot, waltz, and tango) remained popular but acquired an increasingly dreamy quality: women’s fashion shifted away from the high hems of the 1920s to form-fitting gowns with long, sweeping skirts.