I’m always on the look-out for unusual vaudeville acts that I can weave into my novels. When I met a woman whose mother and aunt had been unusual vaudeville performers, I knew I had a keeper! These two young women were violinists and acrobats, which gave them a most interesting profession: bio-contortionist. Helen Myra, my friend’s mother, was a ballerina who performed Pavlova’s Dying Swan while playing the violin. Her sister, Olga Myra is pictured below, playing the violin as she performed acrobatic feats. They performed in the mid-1920s, which is when my Roaring Twenties series is set, so I incorporated these usual acts into the fourth book in my series, due out next year.
Here are some of Olga’s reviews, courtesy of her niece. I found them fascinating to read.
Pittsburg Daily Post, 3 July 1923, p. 10
“Olga Myra’s high kicks and her violining while she did the split…”
Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 25 September 1923, p. 23
“Olga Myra and her Southern Entertainers “stopped the show” in the fifth position. Miss Myra was also favored with a fetching personality…and in a variety of picturesque costumes she exhibited marked suppleness and more or less originality of style in dancing. Hers was mostly “stunt” dancing, and she excelled in “splits,” back bending and kicking.”
Amsterdam, NY Evening Recorder, 9 October 1923
“No other performer on the stage has been able to execute a happy combination of acrobatic dancing and violin performance at the same time as young and winsome Olga Myra…She is a finished artist in her line, having devoted eight months of continuous study and practice at the Theodore Art School in New York.”
Louisville, KY Courier-Journal, 20 December 1923, p. 4
Olga Myra will top the new vaudeville program that will be offered at B.F. Keith’s National this afternoon and the remainder of this week. She is a dancer who combines violin playing with a characteristic form of acrobatic dancing…”
Variety, 1 April 1925, p. 11 (reviewing the show at the NY Palace)
Olga Myra and the Bitter Sisters, a Foster Hip turn, with a big production and swift changes of pace, costumes and methods in dance, ran 13 minutes and seemed like six. Miss Olga Myra is an accomplished contortionist, but of the refined and subdued order. She does some unusual fiddling while going through her bends…”
Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle, 13 October 1925, p. 18
“Keith’s Theater: One of the most colorful and artistic dancing acts presented at Keith’s vaudeville house this season, or any other season for that matter, is the offering of Olga Myra and her two assistants, Betsey Rees and Margaret Litchfield. All three are graceful and agile dancers of an exceptional order. Then the act is staged with exceedingly good taste, a charming simplicity of setting being used for each dance number so that the audience’s eye is centered on the dancers and yet conscious that all surrounding details are satisfying artistically. In fact, it is one of very few dance acts that is not over done in setting and costuming. Olga Myra herself is a supple dancer who seems capable of achieving any position at all with her agile limbs. The other two are toe dancers and interpreters of charming dance designs, which their grace and ability make remarkably appealing.”
In separate article on page 23: “Keith star offers real dance novelty…Olga Myra offers a distinct novelty in the nature of acrobatic dancing with violin playing. She knows how to fiddle well, and she lays her instrument while exerting exceedingly difficult acrobatic dancing feats. Miss Myra is the only performer who does this novelty. In various numbers she also displays ability to do true aesthetic dancing. Hers is obviously a genuine dancing temperament coupled with an understanding of vaudeville showmanship…”
Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 22 December 1925, p. 15
“Olga Myra, dancing violinist, and two other dancing artists who are featured in the same act, Misses Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield, the latter a Pittsburg girl…Miss Myra was the embodiment of ease of movement in a waltz that lofted toes sideways, forward and backward with equal smoothness and rhythm. She also played sweetly on the violin as she performed an acrobatic obbligato in slow movement. The entire act was prettily staged and it was one of the most popular on the bill.”
In separate article on p. 11: “A much-admired dancing attraction by Olga Myra includes her curling and uncurling herself to her violin playing, her backward bending and high kicking and splitting…”
Variety, 16 June 1926, p. 21 [a review of the act]
“Olga Myra and Company, Dancing, 16 minutes, Full Stage, at the Palace.
“Olga Myra formerly appeared with a band. In her new turn are but two girl brunet dancers, while a special musical director, Fred Hathaway, is in the pit. Betsy Rees and Margaret Litchfield dance with Miss Myra, the minor members opening the act with a Columbine-Pierrot dance, backed scenically by a Venetian Canal drop revealed through a set frame mounted upon a platform. Miss Rees, a toe dancer, was the Columbine and Miss Litchfield (hair short) the Pierrot.
Opened well and led to a solo waltz by the featured artist, whose forte in this number was high side kicks, helping to send her off well. A special drop backed the frame for this.
For the following number, “The Enchanted Rose Bush,” Miss Litchfield was a pensive lover admiring a rosebush, which suddenly opened, disclosing a toe dancer who went into some nice steps to the measures of “La Traviata’s” ballet music and ending with the dancer retiring to the bush, the lover resuming the pensive attitude.
Then, Miss Myra for a violin solo played as she went through a difficult contortionistic routine on the platform. This was her old specialty and is built up to be the act’s feature. A Russian trio dance closed the act [other accounts note this dance trio was entitled “Boots”]. The turn was moved from fourth to closing intermission and scored in that good spot. In addition to the good work of the principals, especially the featured girl, the costuming is not only handsome and lavish but in excellent taste.
As a dance-flash turn for vaudeville or the big picture houses, this one frames all around. With some speeding it would be a set-up for the cinema palaces, where they appear four- a-day, but pay more money than in vaudeville.”