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The History of St. Louis Imperial Swing Dancing
There are a total of eight swing dance clubs located in and around the St. Louis (including MUSIC in Collinsville, Illinois) who are members of the Midwest Swing Dance Federation, and all of these clubs are descended from the St. Louis Imperial Dance Club, which was founded in 1973. The largest of these sister clubs, the West County Swing Dance Club, has the distinction of being one of the largest swing clubs in the United States with an active membership totaling more than a thousand dancers.
Imperial Swing is named after the Imperial Club located on Goodfellow Boulevard and West Florissant Avenue. The building, originally named the Imperial Hall, was built in 1928 as a ballroom, bowling alley and restaurant/bar complex. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was the dance floor of Northwest St. Louis, just as the Arcadia (later called Tune Town), the Admiral Showboat in Midtown, and the Casa Loma on the South Side were the most popular dance halls in their area. In 1952 George Edick Enterprises bought Imperial Hall and George Edick renamed it Club Imperial. During the early part of that decade, he ran the club as a dance hall with the theme of “a nice place for good people.” He played “big band” music and catered primarily to private parties. He was able to regularly book guest appearances with popular acts such as Stan Kenton and Louis Prima because Robert Hyland, of CBS and KMOX radio, broadcast his weekly program, “Coast to Coast with Bob Hyland,” from the Imperial Ballroom.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Edik realized that the country’s musical taste had shifted to “Rock’n Roll” and used his PR firm to aggressively promote Club Imperial on KVK, KKSOK, VIL and VGNU. The Joe Bozzi Quintet, Jimmy (Night Train) Forrest, Chuck Berry, Dolly Parton, The Monkeys, Glen Campbell, Ike and Tina Turner and a small vocal group now called The Fifth Dimension are among the many artists who began their careers at his club . He promoted the “Jitterbug” competition where a couple from the Imperial Club (Teddi Cole and Kathi Burke) won the national jitterbug championship. During the “Rock’n Roll” craze, Edick held “Teen Night” dances on Tuesdays, and during these weekly dances the jitterbug variation that became known as the “Imperial Style” of St. Louis swing was born. As the sixties progressed, musical trends changed again. ‘Rock’ began to decline from ‘Rock’n Roll’, ‘rock’ became harder, and teenagers increasingly attended loud, psychedelic music concerts. Since it was almost impossible to dance to the terrifying beats of their acid rock music, Edik gradually stopped all public dancing in his club.
In the 1970s, George Edick wanted to reintroduce danceable music to the Imperial Club and found that holding a swing competition was just the ticket! He met with Teddy Cole, a Jitterbug champion who was also a dance promoter, and they decided to sponsor an annual competition in St. Louis Jitterbug “Imperial Style” to choose the “Champion of the City”. These widely publicized competitions encouraged many older, experienced dancers to come back to the club, and Edick sponsored a series of “Welcome Dances” to introduce these old dancers to the newer players. As more and more people began to learn Imperial, they began to organize themselves into small dance groups that met in apartment complexes throughout the St. Louis area, and George Edick stayed in touch with many of their leaders.
In 1973, Al Morris conceived the idea of forming a club, and his group first met at the San Miguel Apartments in St. Charles, which became the Imperial Dance Club St. The founders are: Dave Cheshire, Jan Cheshire, Rick McQueen, Joan Fritz, Debbie Dustman (Wheelis) and Veronica Lynch. The new club alternated between Lynch’s apartment complex in South County and Wood Hollow Apartments in West County. Edick contacted the Board of Directors and told them that he was very interested in helping their club fulfill its mission to keep the game of swing alive. With a convincing new adaptation of his original 1950s theme, the big promoter convinced them that their growing club should hold their future dances at his Club Imperial ballroom because it was “a nice place for nice people who like to swing!”
A good motto never dies, but unfortunately people do, and on June 11, 2002, George Edick passed away. The building is quiet now, but it stands, not only as a marker of where it all began, but also as a tribute to a man who, during his colorful, eighty-six-year life, managed to turn his dreams into reality. . . not a bad epitaph!
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#History #Louis #Imperial #Swing #Dancing