Joan Sawyer: Society Dancer in Vaudeville

According to Streetswing, today is the birthday of Joan Sawyer (1887-1966). Sawyer was a society dancer (playing fancy private parties and teaching the wealthy to dance), who also performed in vaudeville and night clubs. As such she was said to be second in fame only to the Castles, although unlike the latter dance team, Sawyer worked with a long succession of partners (rather than just one) and was often at the center of numerous “alienation of affection” scandals. Over the years Sawyer’s partners included John Jarrett, Nigel Barrie, Lew Quinn (with whom she is said to have introduced the Rumba in 1913), Rudolph Valentino, George Raft, Maurice Mouvet, Jack Gavin and Arthur Ashley. Shortly after playing the Palace in 1914 she was invited to manage a club in the Winter Garden Theatre complex, called the Persian Garden, for which she drafted Dan Kildare of the famous Clef Club to head the Persian Garden Orchestra (PGO). Several records were cut at the time, including “The Joan Waltz” (1914). She made one film in for Fox in 1917 called Love’s Law. Back in vaudeville by 1919, she appeared in an act with Arthur Ashley in which the pair interpreted (in dance) a number of scenes from famous plays. During the late teens she was prominent among the suffragettes (her business manager was also a woman, and Sawyer was involved in at least one lesbian affair during the 1920s). During the 20s she traveled through Europe and married a wealthy businessman to whom she remained attached in 1936. Her last three decades were spent outside the limelight.

To find out more about vaudeville past and present including dancers like Joan Sawyerconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


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