August 4, 2001
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If you live in the U. S. and you caught a recent edition of tv's Good Morning, America, you might have seen one of their audience participation events, where couples competed to see who could dance all night and still remain on their feet the following morning. Or perhaps a college or university near you sponsored such an event, with proceeds going to a charitable or fund-raising cause. You may even have seen the short-lived stage musical Steel Pier. And if you're of a certain age or have a slew of cable movie channels, you may also have seen 1969's film They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. Somehow, the idea of dancing as an endurance sport is one concept most of us are familiar with. We may not all of us understand it, still, we're willing to let some other bunch of nuts knock themselves out. But whose idea was it, anyway?

It had all started in England in March of 1923, but that contest only lasted nine hours. The Scots raised the bar to 14 hours, the French pushed it to a full day. At the end of the month, New York City dance instructor Alma Cummings, set out to beat the Europeans. 27 hours and a number of partners later she held the record, only to lose it the next week to another New York couple. Time to get tough. Discarding her high heeled shoes Alma then hopped to it and set the record, briefly, at 50 hours. After Homer Morehouse of North Tonawanda, New York, danced 87 hours straight before dropping dead, New York City spoil-sport authorities tried and failed to call a halt to the madness. They stopped a contest after 12 hours. The dancers bounced out onto a waiting flatbed truck which took them, still dancing, to a pier where a waiting ferry carried them to Fort Lee, New Jersey. Authorities there chased them out and the event bounced back across the river to Manhattan. They finally ended up in northeastern Westchester County where worried city officials allowed file clerk Vera Sheppard to set a new record at 69 hours, before halting the craziness. The record kept climbing. 167 hours. 168 hours, the equivalent of a full week. Then 182 hours; and 8 seconds. Finally, St. Louis dancer Bernie Brand topped it all off at 217 consecutive hours.

So. It all started in England in 1923. Well, not really. It was in England. But the year was 1600. And who was the nimble-footed egotist who began it all? Comic actor by the name of William Kempe. When the Earl of Leicester's Men touring company of entertainers set off on a tour of the Low Countries and Denmark in 1585, William was on the bill as a solo performer. Gaining a reputation as a dancer as well as a clown, he moved up in theatrical circles. He soon moved over to the Chamberlain's Men, where a young playwright also named William was whipping out plays for the company. Kempe originated a number of Shakespeare's clown roles, most famously Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. Eventually the two Wills had a falling out over Kempe's scene-stealing antics, and soon Kempe was a free agent. To keep his name in the public eye he accepted a bet and announced he would dance a jig. All the way from London to Norwich, 114 miles. He set out on February 10, 1600, along with several cronies. 23 days later he bounced into Norwich, his bet won. Typical English weather had forced many layovers, so he'd only actually danced for nine non-consecutive days. Of course theater people like to pad their bios a bit. So thereafter he publicized himself as William Kempe, the Nine-Day Wonder.

For Classical 91.5 and 90-point-3, this is David Minor

 

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URL OF THE WEEK
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Kenneth Grahame's _The Wind in the Willows_ praises the virtues of "messing about" in small boats. What beter place to do your messing about than on a canal. Now, after quite a bit of messing about on our part (speaking as a society member), the web page of the Canal Society of New York State is on the air. You'll find it at http://www.canalsnys.org. From the home page you can explore membership in the society, publications available, opportunities for boating on the state's canals and links to other canal sites in New York, the U. S. and the World. There's still a bit of tinkering to be done and I will be making changes and additions to the Links section from time to time, so keep checking back. Feedback is important, so give us your comments, suggestions and criticisms, to enable us to serve you better.

Just a few words of thanks for those who've been such a big help in getting this craft in the water.

Rich Hamell of Monroe Community College for designing the page, way back in 1998 (believe it or not).

Society president Tom Grasso for pulling various strings so adroitly, and leaving the techie stuff to people like myself and to

Buffalo's John Grossman, CSNYS member, a huge amount of thanks for volunteering for hazardous duty in actually getting the site straightened out and on the air.

John and I will be sharing webmaster duties, so you can pass comments, etc. on to me and I'll hand them off to John when necessary.

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The Game's Afoot ! !
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© 2001 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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