The concept of the tea dance, evolved from the convention of the afternoon tea and J. Pettigrew traces its origin to the French colonisation of Morocco. Books on Victorian Era etiquette such as Party-giving on Every Scale, (London, ) included detailed instructions for hosting such gatherings. By 1880 it was noted "Afternoon dances are seldom given in London, but are a popular form of entertainment in the suburbs, in garrison-towns, watering-places, etc."
The usual refreshments in 1880 were tea and coffee ices, champagne-cup and claret-cup, fruit, sandwiches, cake and biscuits. Even after the introduction of the phonograph the expected feature was a live orchestra– often referred to as a palm court orchestra – or a small band playing light classical music.
The types of dances performed during tea dances included waltzes tangos and, by the late 1920s, The Charleston.
Tea dances are a common cultural reference in early 20th century fiction as a staple of genteel society, where people normally attend these receptions while visiting resort towns.
One example can be seen in the 1925 hit Broadway musical No, No Nanette A tea dance provides the setting for the plot's climax when the main characters travel to Atlantic City (the same musical also features the famous song Tea for Two which is sung prior to this scene).
An opium den was an establishment where opium was sold and smoked. Throughout the west opium dens were frequented by and associated with the Chinese, patrons would recline in order to hold the long opium pipes over oil lamps that would heat the drug until it vaporized.
Opium Dens feature in literature such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray” written by Oscar Wilde and “The Glass Menagerie” written by Tennessee Williams ; even The Wizard of Oz includes Dorothy and her friends falling asleep in a poppy field.
1920s slang for opium includes “midnight oil”, “hop” and “big O”
In 1909, the International Opium Commission was founded, and by 1914, thirty-four nations had agreed that the production and importation of opium should be diminished.
The Jazz Age was a golden time for America. Also known as The Roaring 20's, money flowed and people partied!
It was a time of freedom for young women – known as ‘Flappers’, who bobbed their hair or had it cut like men at barber shops! They shocked the older generation by wearing shorter dresses, exposing their knees and often wearing silk stockings rolled just above the knee. They drove, smoked, danced the Charleston and the Black Bottom and went out on their own. At the same time, Jazz was booming with performers like Fats Waller & Louis Armstrong.
Hollywood was built and people flocked to be in the movies. Clara Bow was the ‘It’ girl – the darling of all the flappers, and Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Rudolf Valentino were the new movie stars.
Prohibition was introduced in the States in 1918 banning the sale, transportation and manufacture of alcohol and this made the drinking and partying even more exciting.
Gangsters, who ran the illegal market in alcohol, became almost as famous as the movie stars with Al Capone controlling Chicago and bootlegging (the illegal traffic in liquor) thriving throughout the country. The term ‘bootlegger’ apparently comes from the Midwest in the 1880’s when those trading with the Indians hid flasks of illicit liquor in their boot tops!