Dancing the Maxixe


Irene and Vernon Castle do the Maxixe.

Between the scandalous Tango and the salacious Samba, there came the Maxixe, the early 20th century’s forgotten dance sensation. The Maxixe was just naughty enough to become popular worldwide between 1910 and 1915, but not naughty enough to be remembered.

The dance came from Brazil, where its name was pronounced ‘ ‘mashish,’ and was first spotted in Rio de Jainero in 1884. Executing the steps of the hugely popular Polka (which I write about in detail in the Encyclopedia of the Exquisite), but with gracefully dragging feet and rippling hips, turned it into something new. The dancers pressed their foreheads together. They briefly interlaced their limbs. And they held their bodies close throughout the dance. “Face against face, body against body…they sweat in sweet movement together,” one journalist in Rio wrote, describing the Maxixe in 1905.

Another Brazilian writer penned this ode: “So tasty is maxixe/That if he only knew/The Holy Father’d come from Rome/To dance maxixe too”

By the time the dance reached ballrooms in Europe and in the United States, where it was championed by the reigning dancing couple of the day, Irene and Vernon Castle (who also appear in the E of the E), it had been considerably sanitized. Rather than undulating, the dancers wiggled, and hands were pressed together instead of foreheads or hips. The Maxixe was, as the Castles explained in their book on dancing, “as an exquisite expression of joyousness and of youthful spontaneity.” (The brief video clip shows the Castles doing their version of the dance in 1910.)

Ragtime became Jazz. And just as the too-hot Tango led to the Maxixe, by 1917 dancing couples had turned up the heat again with the slinky, sexy Samba, which became all the rage in Brazil.

The Castles, doing the Maxixe.