This dance was born in the mid-1930s in a black nightclub operated by a man named Fat Sam on Park Street in downtown Columbia, in what was once the House of Peace Synagogue. The Big Apple was popularized nationally when it was taken to Manhattan by University of South Carolina students. A combination of the square dance and various jazz routines of the 1920s, the Big Apple caught the attention of white college students who, encouraged by Fat Sam, paid 10¢ to watch dancers from the nightclub balcony. Soon they were repeating the steps at fraternity parties. By the spring of 1937 the Big Apple was attracting more than local attention. In August of that year several student couples performed the dance at New York’s Roxy Theatre and then toured cities throughout the Northeast. The Big Apple received such an enthusiastic reception that it became a brief national craze.
According to a 1937 report in Time, the routine opened with the dancers in a circle led by a caller, somewhat like the Virginia Reel. The fundamental steps seemed to be the Lindy Hop with bits of the Black Bottom, Suzy-Q, Charleston, Shag, Truckin’, and an Indian rain dance thrown in. It all ended on an irreverent note as the group leaned back, arms outstretched to the heavens, and shouted “Praise Allah!”
After about a year the Big Apple dance faded from view and so did the nightclub. The building was moved to its present location adjacent to the Richland County Library and restored to its former elegance in the late 1980s. It is operated by the Historic Columbia Foundation and is rented for various social events.
“Big Apple.” Time 30 (September 13, 1937): 37–38. “Big Apple Is New Dance Craze Sweeping the South.” Life 3 (August 9, 1937): 22. Maxey, Russell. “The Big Apple.” Columbia State Magazine, May 30, 1982, pp. 5–6.