Danse Les Apaches

Thanks go to the mailing listserve of the Bartitsu Society for reminding me of yet another part of our traditions…

Tony Wolf’s early classes in Bartitsu (back before he’d published either compendium, the first time he presented this at a Paddy Crean, and when almost nobody knew what it was – it’s come a long way since then!) made mention of Les Apaches, the street gangs of montmarte infamous for certain tricks of theft & violence.

Most of their tricks centered around petty theft and similar crimes, but some were downright nasty. Witness the “apache revolver”, for example, a wicked swiss army knife of street violence:

Folded up and ready to pocket for a night on the town… click for more info

What I hadn’t remembered, although it was vaguely familiar when mentioned, was the Apache Dance. Apparently this was quite the rage -in several meanings- back in the day. A fairly even mix of dance and violence and sexuality, this was apparently the Parisian thug’s answer to the tango. Here’s a few good period examples. The first ends badly for almost everyone, and yes, these are pretty misogynist:

Where does the dance end and the fight begin? Not sure, and I think that’s partly the point. That stuntwoman did some amazing falls, and wasn’t even credited by the camera – notice it doesn’t follow her big stair fall at the end (starting on the guy’s shoulder!) but tracks the guy when he falls instead. More modern music theatre enthusiasts might see predecessors of Chicago‘s Cell block Tango here. I believe it was SAFD Certified Teacher Jenny Male who’s done that as a stage combat workshop on occasion, building a fight full of throw-downs, chokes, etc.

Here’s a more light-hearted take where the woman gets the upper hand:

So… historical relic? Ancient curio of gender politics past? Not quite.

Here’s Pink’s recent video for Try, both the live version and official video. Scantily clad humans, so probably NWS (assuming men beating women from before was):

Pink has said that her video was directly inspired by the Apache dance. Only real change I see is that the clothing has mostly disappeared, and the music’s a bit different.


Stage combat is often viewed metaphorically as a dance that looks violent, but rarely is it so literal. The liberal arts teacher in me wants to pick apart the social message here, and isn’t entirely sure it’s a healthy one (domestic violence anyone?), but the stage combat/stunt side is mostly just impressed. The vaudeville era performers did some amazing pratfall acts, which seems to have included some of these dancers.




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