—quote from review by Jane Calvin, Executive Director, Lowell Parks & Conservation Trust
Lowell, Massachusetts—Twirling Jennies: A History of Social Dance (and other mischief) in the City of Spindles 1820–1920 is now available online and in select stores. Written by local dancer and author Ruth Evans, and co-researched with her husband, Charles Worsley, this handsomely illustrated volume draws on a wide variety of sources to weave together a hundred years of dance history with the story of America’s Industrial Revolution.
Much has been written about the early days of Lowell, and about the mill girls who once filled the city, but very little has been said about the dance world of these young women. Controversial and pervasive, was partnered dance a harmless entertainment or the road to the brothel? In chronicling Lowell’s nineteenth-century dance scene, Twirling Jennies touches on social mores, sexual harassment, labor, technology, architecture, immigration, pastimes, laws, language, and more.
For the dancer, there are detailed discussions of specific dances and steps, from the balletic roots of square dancing to a reprint of Vernon and Irene Castle’s 1914 Fox Trot magazine article. For the Lowell buff, there are accounts of people, places and events, including an illustrated tour of Lowell’s Victorian dance halls and the buildings that housed them. And for those with more general interests, there are fascinating tidbits such as Lowell’s sensational Tango Trial or the rise and fall of New England’s trolley parks.
Ruth Evans has been involved with dancing and with textile-related fields for over forty years and made her first foray into writing professionally in 1998. She also has computer graphics certification from UMass Lowell, training that allowed her to repair, restore, and arrange the 300-plus illustrations in Twirling Jennies to great effect. Her husband, Charles Worsley, has been researching and performing period-style dancing for over thirty years. Married in 1999, and Lowell residents since 2009, the couple are a familiar sight on the dance floor at Lowell’s Annual Folk Festival.