There are a total of eight swing dance clubs located in and around the St. Louis area (including M.U.S.I.C. in Collinsville, Illinois) that are members of the Midwest Swing Dance Federation, and all of these clubs are descended from the St. Louis Imperial Dance Club that 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 that totals more than a thousand dancers.
Imperial Swing got its name from the Club Imperial located at Goodfellow Boulevard and West Florissant Avenue. The building, originally called Imperial Hall, was built in 1928 as a dance hall, bowling alley and restaurant/bar complex. In the 1930s and 1940s, it was the dance spot of Northwest St. Louis, just as Arcadia (later called Tune Town), the Admiral Showboat in Midtown, and the Casa Loma on the Southside, were the most popular dance halls in their respective areas. In 1952, George Edick Enterprises purchased Imperial Hall and George Edick renamed it the Club Imperial. During the early part of that decade, he operated the club as a ballroom with the theme of “a nice place for nice people.” He played “big band” music and catered primarily to private parties. He was able to regularly book guest appearances with popular performers like Stan Kenton and Louis Prima because Robert Hyland, of CBS and KMOX radio, broadcast his weekly “Coast To Coast with Bob Hyland” program from the Imperial Ballroom.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Edick realized that the country’s taste in music had shifted to “Rock ‘n Roll” and he used his advertising-public relations firm, 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 began their careers at his club. He promoted a “Jitterbug” contest where a couple from the 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 that became known as the “Imperial Style” of St. Louis swing was born. As the 60s progressed, music trends were changing again. The ‘roll’ started dropping out of “Rock ‘n Roll,” the ‘rock’ got harder, and the teenagers increasingly attended loud, psychedelic music concerts. Because the freak-out beats of their acid rock music was almost impossible to dance to, Edick gradually discontinued all public dances at his club.
In the 1970s, George Edick wanted to reintroduce more listenable and danceable music at Club Imperial and he found that hosting swing contests was just the ticket! He got together with Teddy Cole, the Jitterbug champion who was also a dance promoter in his own right, and they decided to sponsor a yearly St. Louis Jitterbug Contest “Imperial Style” to pick a “City Champion.” These widely publicized contests prompted many of the older, experienced dancers to come around the club again, and Edick sponsored a number of “Salute Dances” to introduce these old timers to the newer dancers. As more and more people began learning the Imperial, they began organizing into small dance groups that met in apartment complexes around the St. Louis area, and George Edick kept in touch with many of their leaders.
In 1973 Al Morris conceived the idea of forming 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 their dances between Lynch’s apartment complex in South County and the Wood Hollow apartments in West County. Edick contacted the Board and he told them that he was very interested in helping their club to fulfill their mission to keep swing dancing alive. The great promoter convinced them, with a persuasive new adaptation of his original 1950s theme, that their growing club should hold their future dances at his Club Imperial ballroom because it’s “a nice place for nice people who like to swing dance!”
Good mottos never die but unfortunately people do, and on June 11, 2002 George Edick passed away. The building is silent now but it stands, not only as a landmark where Imperial Swing all began, but also as a tribute to a man who, over his colorful, eighty-six-year lifetime, was able to convert his dreams into reality . . . not a bad epitaph!
by Skip Culver