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Re: Gandy Dancer

Posted by Gary on March 02, 2005

In Reply to: Re: Gandy Dancer posted by Gary on March 02, 2005

: : : : I have not seen anywhere else the following explanation:

: : : : In the Norse Eddas, there is an character who uses a wand or stick as a magic tool. The Norse word GANDR is tranlated as "wand" or "staff" and is a word still used in several websites on modern Norse/Viking/pagan rituals.

: : : : The Edda refers to this character as GANDR-Alf (although he is a dwarf, not an elf!) Prof. J.R.R.Tolkien used most of the Edda dwarf-names in the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but this one was reserved for the archtypical wizard with his long staff. The name... GANDALF!
: : : : The connection with the long-handled (Irish) railway shovels and any such tool is obvious.

: : : : Indeed I remember (vaguely, unfortunately) a science-fiction short story by one of the "classic" authors - Van Vogt perhaps - where a character earns a small income by sweeping ,i.e. being a broom operative, or "GANDY DANCER"

: : : : Any comments?

: : : I haven't seen that explanation anywhere else, either.

: : All I know about "gandy dancer" is that it refers to a railroad employee who repairs tracks.

: : Gandy dancer -- "a well known term by 1915 and said by some to have been a hobo term for the hobos and tramps who did such work when they felt like it, it may have been used by railroaders as early as the 1860s. It's from the gooselike, or ganderlike, rhythmic movement of the workers tamping the ties and gravel and straightening rails." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

: : More discussion about the origins of the phrase at http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/32/messages/585.html

: Perhaps we won't find the origin of the term gandy. I have to admit that in the back of my mind I had an image of gandy dancers being the same as sand dancers.

: I don't know how far the reputation of the 1950s English variety act Wilson, Keppel and Betty spread, but I do hope they were known far and wide. The word eccentric was never better used than in describing WKB.

: Their act consisted of little more than scattering sand on stage and shuffling around on it. Said like that it doesn't sound much, but that wonderful and surreal sight is deeply ingrained in the consciousness of UK citizens of a certain age. Borderline insane though it was there was something profound about it. Apparently they appeared on the same bill as Frank Sinatra in London in the early 50s. That I would like to have seen.

: Somehow, the image of Ghandi in his loincloth and Wilson and Keppel in nighshirt and fez have become merged in my mind. Don't worry - I'm seeking medical treatment for that.

: I can't find a picture of WKB in full Egyptian flow. This one gves some notion of what they were about.

... and I notice that picture is dated 1939. The fact that they sustained a career over many years (and several Bettys, who like Lassie kept reincarnating) is notable in itself. Maybe that's a testament to the hidden depths in their act or maybe to the English's love for the eccentric.