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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 area (including MUSIC in Collinsville, Illinois) that are members of the Midwest Swing Dance Federation, and all of these clubs are 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 takes its name from the Imperial Club located at Goodfellow Boulevard and West Florissant Avenue. The building, originally called 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 Arcadia (later called Tune Town), the Admiral Showboat in Midtown, and Casa Loma on the Southside, were the most popular dance halls in their respective dance halls. areas. In 1952 George Edick Enterprises purchased Imperial Hall and George Edick renamed it Club Imperial. Early in that decade he operated the club as a ballroom themed “a nice place for nice people”. He played “big band” music and catered mainly to private parties. He was able to regularly book appearances with popular artists like Stan Kenton and Louis Prima because Robert Hyland of CBS and KMOX radio aired his weekly “Coast To Coast with Bob Hyland” program from the Imperial Ballroom.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Edick realized that country musical tastes had shifted to “Rock ‘n Roll” and he used his publicity and public relations company to aggressively promote the Club Imperial on KWK, KXOK, WIL and WGNU. The Joe Bozzi Quintet, Jimmie (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 started their careers at his club. He promoted a “Jitterbug” contest where a couple from Club Imperial (Teddy Cole and Kathy Burke) won the National Jitterbug Championship. During the “Rock ‘n Roll” craze, Edick held Tuesday “Teen Night” dances, and it was during these weekly dances that a jitterbug variation known as “Imperial Style” of the St. Louis swing was born. As the 60s progressed, musical trends changed again. The ‘roll’ began to give up ‘Rock ‘n Roll’, the ‘rock’ got harder, and teenagers increasingly attended loud psychedelic music concerts. Because the frantic beats of their acid rock music were nearly impossible to dance to, Edick phased out all public dancing at his club.
In the 1970s, George Edick wanted to reintroduce more listenable and danceable music at the Imperial Club and he discovered that the organization of swing competitions was perfect! He got together with Teddy Cole, the Jitterbug Champion who was also a dance promoter in his own right, and they decided to sponsor an annual St. Louis Jitterbug “Imperial Style” contest to choose a “City Champion”. These widely publicized competitions prompted many older and experienced dancers to return to the club, and Edick sponsored a number of “Salute Dances” to introduce these oldtimers to newer dancers. As more people began to learn Imperial, they began to organize themselves into small dance groups that met in apartment complexes around the St. Louis area, and George Edick remained. in contact with many of their leaders.
In 1973, Al Morris had the idea to form a club, and it was his group that first met at the San Miguel Apartments in St. Charles which became the St. Louis Imperial Dance Club. The founders are: Dave Cheshire, Jan Cheshire, Rick McQueen, Joan Fritz, Debbie Dustman (Wheelis) and Veronica Lynch. The new club alternated its dances between the Lynch apartment complex in South County and the Wood Hollow apartments in West County. Edick contacted the board and he told them he was very interested in helping their club fulfill their mission of keeping swing dancing alive. The big promoter convinced them, with a compelling new adaptation of his original 1950s theme, that their growing club should hold their future dances in their Club Imperial ballroom because it’s “a nice place for people fun guys who like to swing dance!”
Good currencies never die, but unfortunately people do, and on June 11, 2002, George Edick passed away. The building is now silent, but it stands not only as a landmark where it all began Imperial Swing, but also as a tribute to a man who, during his colorful life of eighty-six years, was able to turn their dreams into reality. . . not a bad epitaph!
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