Dancing in the English style

Consumption, Americanisation and national identity in Britain, 1918–50

Allison Abra
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Popular dance in Britain fundamentally transformed in the early 1920s. This book explores the development, experience and cultural representation of popular dance in Britain during the first half of the twentieth century. The specific focus is on two distinct yet occasionally overlapping commercial producers: the dance profession and the dance hall industry. The strong foreign, and increasingly American, influences on dancing directly connected this cultural form with questions about the autonomy and identity of the British nation. The book uses dancing as a lens through which to better understand broader historical processes of popular cultural production and consumption, and national identity construction. The first part of the book focuses on the efforts of dancing's producers to construct a standardised style and experience for British dancing, and the response to those efforts by consumers. These interactions determined which dances would find success in Britain, and how and where they would be performed. The second part demonstrates how these interactions between dancing's producers and consumers constructed, circulated, embodied, but also commodified, ideologies of gender, class, race and nation. The dance profession transformed the steps and figures of foreign dances like the foxtrot and tango into what became known as the 'English style' of ballroom dancing. The dance hall industry launched a series of novelty dances, such as the Lambeth Walk, that were celebrated for their British origins and character, and marketed the wartime dance floor as a site of patriotism and resistance.

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‘Dancing in the English Style breaks new ground in many areas […and] is a detailed, well-written, and comprehensive account of its subject.'
Journal of British Studies
January 2020

‘Drawing upon a fascinating range of source material (including autobiographies, Mass Observation, and the trade press), she tackles a series of complex issues, and advances a number of intriguing, important, and convincing arguments.'           
Canadian Journal of History
January 2020

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