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Archive for History of Ballroom Dance

The Roaring 20’s


Dancing through the Decades Life Magazine 1920's Charleston

The Roaring 20’s

Popular Dances: Charleston, Foxtrot, Ragtime, Shag, Tango and Waltz

In the 1920’s new kinds of dancing evolved along with the new Jazz and Blues music. The new music and dances were fast paced and energetic, like the optimistic 1920’s themselves. They were an escape from the horror of war, and an opportunity to release pent up emotions created by the restricted lifestyles forced on the public by the war effort.

Dancing through the Decades 1920

Ragtime, which had been popular during and after the war, was suited to the new music tempos and so it flourished. Old favorites like the Waltz and Foxtrot remained popular due to people like Arthur Murray who ran dance schools and published “How to” books on all the popular dances. Dances like the Tango and Charleston received a huge boost in popularity when featured in movies by stars like Rudolph Valentino and Joan Crawford. Freed from the restrictions of tight corsets and the large puffed sleeves and long skirts that characterized dress during the late Victorian era, a new generation of dancers was swaying, hugging, and grinding to the new rhythms in dances.

Dancing through the Ages image of Flapper and Sheik from 1920's

Fun Facts

The dance that epitomizes the 1920’s is the Charleston.

The Waltz and Tango were considered scandalous dances, due to the physical contact between partners.

Flappers were young women with short bobbed hairstyles, close fitting hats and short skirts.

Sheiks were young men with ukuleles and typically wore raccoon coats and bell-bottom trousers.







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1930’s and 1940’s

Depression, War & Dance:30s & 40s

Life Magazine cover from 1943 depicting the Lindy Hop

At the start of the 1930s, America had come through decade after decade of change. Scientific and medical advances meant greater consciousness. But these advances often brought struggle between the scientific and the spiritual. Innovations in technology had led to the radio, the automobile, the film industry and the onset of a consumer culture. The 1920s were a time of both glamour and disillusionment as the country tried to recover from World War I. The decade ended in the stock market crash. In the 1930s, people struggled to overcome the economic climate with both experimentation and tradition, and sometimes with escapism. The popular dances played to all these traits.

Dancing through the Decades, Shag

The 1940s were the crucial decade for American dance in this century, crystallizing the experiments of the two previous decades and establishing the dominant forms of the medium until the 1970s. It was an age of remarkable cross-fertilization. Various forms heretofore distinct were imaginatively combined: ballet was fused with modern dance; modern dance with burlesque and vaudeville. Jazz, tap, and swing music influenced everything; popular dances and steps from Harlem nightclubs, such as the jitterbug, found their way to the performance hall and the Broadway stage. The giants of modern American dance—George Balanchine, Martha Graham, Helen Tamiris, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Fred Astaire, and Gene Kelly—established or consolidated their reputations during the decade; classic musicals such as Oklahoma! (1943), Pal Joey (1940), Annie Get Your Gun (1946), andAnchors Aweigh (1945).

Fun Facts

  • Dancing through the Decades, Jitterbug, 1940sThe Lindy Hop was named after Charles Lindbergh. A headline touting Lindbergh’s achievement read “Lindy Hops the Atlantic,” and the dance was born. It starts with a syncopated two-step together, then partners move apart, performing kicks and arm movements before rejoining. This style led to the Jitterbug and East Coast Swing.
  • The West Coast Swing evolved to be slower than its eastern cousins, and features smoother movement, such as pushes and twirls, rather than the more frenzied kicks and hops of the Lindy and the Jitterbug.
  • Many permutations of shag existed (and exist today), but the original dance was started in the South in the 1930s and featured a slow, slow, quick, quick pattern with fast hops and kicks.
  • Professional ballroom dacning, as opposed to everyday dancing, began to take a form entertainment and artistic sport during the 1940’s, thus officially marking the birth of DanceSport.


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Rock ‘n’ Roll meets Solo: 50’s & 60’s

Rock ‘n’ Roll meets Solo: 50’s & 60’s

Dancing Through the Decades  1950's and 1960's Dogwood After Dark

The 1950’s had more to do with the music than with dancing. The music was rock ‘n’ roll. The various adaptations of Swing dancing fell into the category of the Jitterbug. American youth south it out, at times definitely, to express themselves.

Latin styles of dancing exploded in the US with the Mambo and Cha-Cha (its slower syncopated version). In 1957, Jerome Robbins brought his smash hit, ‘West Side Story,’ to Broadway. The show featured a theatrical version of the Mambo. This promoted the growth of Latin American dancing throughout the United States.

The 1960’s, dance fads and solo dancing almost killed ballroom dancing. The freedom of dancing without a partner – shaking on your own or just meet hip to hip with a satisfying bump was so much easier than learning how to Ballroom dance.  Chubby Checkers’ hit “Let’s twist again” in 1961 started the solo dance craze.  Critics of course, called the dance obscene because of its gyrating hip movements.

Dancing through the Decades 1960 Dogwood Arts FestivalBy the mid-1960’s, more than 5000 discos had opened in the United States. The twist set the stage for other gyrating dances like the Shake, the Hitchhike, the Monkey, the Pony, the Swim and the Funky Broadway.  These solo freestyle dances coincided with the beginning of the women’s movement which challenged the idea of a man always leading.  But couples dancing did not go underground for very long.  It exploded back on the scene with the Hustle, which would hit the stage in the 1970’s.


Fun Facts

  • The word “mambo” means “conversation with the gods” in Kikongo.
  • The dance craze of the 1960’s, “the Twist,” was the first partner in which no one touched each other.


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1970’s – Present

I Will Survive – Ballroom Dancing’s Revival

Popular Dances: Hustle, Dirty Dancing, Swing, Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Salsa, Cha Cha

Videos @ bottom of page

Hustling in the 70’s

Saturday Night Fever, Go Dance, Knoxville, Dancing through the Decades, 1970's, hustle

Although the world’s first disco, The Peppermint Lounge in Paris, Donna Summer became a huge name in disco and helped make disco dances one of the most common dances from the 1970s. She had had many hits in Europe before releasing “Love to Love You, Baby” to an overwhelming response in the United States in 1975. More big disco hits from Summers such as “Hot Stuff”, “MacArthur Park”, and “She Works Hard for the Money” soon followed.France, opened in the 1950s, disco dancing did not really catch on in the United States until much later. The Cuban influence in Florida in 1968 helped turn “disco swing” salsa dances into other common dances from the1970s. A strong pulsing beat sets the defining rhythm.

Van McCoy’s hit song “The Hustle“, which explains how to do the disco dance named in the title, premiered in 1975. The Hustle is definitely one of the most common dances from the 1970s. The New York Hustle is slower than the Los Angeles version and has more footwork.

Speaking of footwork, John Travolta’s moves to hit Bee Gees songs such as “Staying Alive” and “Night Fever” in the 1977 movie Saturday Night Fever inspired many of the common dances from the 1970s. Interestingly, another Travolta movie, Urban Cowboy released in 1980, helped set the hottest dance trend for the 1980s called the Texas Two Step.

Nobody puts the 80’s in a Corner

Dirty Dancing, Go Dance, Knoxville, Dancing through the Decades, 1980's

In 1987, ‘Dirty Dancing,’ starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, opened in theaters across the United States. The film was a surprise box-office hit, earning some $64 million. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack went multi-platinum and included the hit singles “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” which won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen and “She’s Like the Wind,” co-written and sung by Swayze himself. More importantly, ‘Dirty Dancing’ rocketed dirty dancing and dancing as a whole into a national and cultural phenomenon, with people signing up to courses to try and emulate the film. Once again, the intimate, touch, social dance was back in the spotlight after almost 20 years of relative silence.

The Swing Revival was a late 1990s and early 2000s period of renewed popular interest in swing and jump blues music and dance from the 1930s and 1940s as exemplified by Louis Prima, often mixed with a more contemporary rock, rockabilly or ska sound, known also as neo-swing or retro swing.

The Swinging 90’s?

Swing Dancing, Go Dance, Knoxville, Dancing through the Decades, 1990's

Throughout the early 1990s, neo-swing was mostly an underground movement, though exposure through movies such as 1993’s Swing Kids and The Mask (whose hit soundtrack featured both Royal Crown Revue and the Brian Setzer Orchestra) introduced the genre to a wider audience.

By the late 90s, retro swing’s popularity was increasing. The 1996 film Swingers, featuring Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, was both a critical and financial success. In 1997, third wave ska and ska punk had become a major presence in mainstream music. The commercial success of bands such as The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who combined ska and punk with a prominent brass section, and Hepcat, who played a more traditional jazz and R&B influenced style of ska, presumably helped pave the way for neo-swing’s mainstream acceptance.

Finally, in 1998 and 1999, the swing revival entered the mainstream, partly due to a television commercial for The Gap featuring the original Louis Prima recording of “Jump, Jive and Wail” and khaki-clad dancers doing the Lindy Hop. Neo-swing bands cracked the Billboard Top 50, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies had a major hit with “Zoot Suit Riot,” Big Bad Voodoo Daddy played the half-time show at Super Bowl XXXIII, and retro-swing music was prominently featured in television and films such as 1999’s Blast from the Past.

Cue Spotlight: Social Dancing Roars Back the 21st Century

Dancing with the Stars, DWTS, Go Dance, Knoxville, Dancing through the Decades, Dogwood After DarkWhat started as a quiet summer series launch is now television’s biggest hit. And the progression of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ from short-term time period filler to a mammoth success story only proves the value, and importance, of feel-good family friendly programming.

Debuting on June 1, 2005 in the United States, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ was described as a six-week dance competition, as six celebrities—Evander Holyfield, Rachel Hunter, Joey McIntyre, Kelly Monaco, John O’Hurley and The Bachelorette star Trista Rehn—competed for the now notoriously cheesy mirror ball trophy. Judged by Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli, the show hoped to tap into the public’s fascination with the reality/competition format by giving the audience the ability to call in and vote.

Dancing with the Stars, DWTS, Judges, Go Dance, Knoxville, Dancing through the Decades, Dogwood After Dark, Dogwood Arts FestivalOne celebrity and his (or her) professional dance partner would be eliminated each week under the watchful eye of Emmy-nominated quip master Tom Bergeron.

At a time when more people were outside enjoying the warmth of the summer than watching television, ABC was hoping the combination of celebrities and dance would spark some interest. But what it never expected, and ultimately accomplished, was to reinvent the variety genre.

Once a staple on television, “variety” traditionally meant a combination of comedy, music and skits, all hosted by the likes of Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Dan Rowan & Dick Martin, Sonny and Cher and countless others. By the mid-1970s, however, viewers’ tastes had begun to change and the format seemed like it needed a breather. So the variety show took a hiatus from prime time.

Flash to the present and the rise of so-called non-scripted programming—competition and docudramas, in particular—have all but swallowed up the TV landscape. Many are spiced with backstabbing and induced melodrama. But some, like Dancing with the Stars, prove that what once thrived in the past can exist again.

Tom Bergeron and company are now the new definition of variety, with its future paved with over 20 million viewers each week thanks to the dancing and the music, the comedy and the interactive elements, and arguably the best mix of celebrity participants since the days when aging actors, up-and-coming stars, singers and sports figures, legends and news figures stood in line waiting for a guest star appearance on a show like Carol Burnett’s.

Once again, the intimacy, art and glamour of social dance has finally returned to the main stage. Better still Dancing with the Stars and the revival of social dancing demonstrates the health benefits of dancing. As millions of Americans are tuning in, and turning on, to ballroom dancing, the nation’s newest craze is energizing teens, boomers and seniors alike. Many are discovering a form of weight-bearing exercise that can be both enormously fun and beneficial. Combing the glamour, fitness and well being, social dance has rocketed back to its rightful place in limelight of America and continues to be social and cultural phenomena that is literally re-shaping modern culture.



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