‘We do not want “fairies” in the ballroom’
Working-class men, dancing and the renegotiation of masculinity in interwar Britain
in Worlds of social dancing
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The explosion in the popularity of social dancing which emerged following the First World War coincided with considerable debate about changing gender roles and a perception of masculinity as fundamentally challenged by the conflict that had killed or maimed so many young men. Dancing in particular was singled out as a ‘suspicious’ activity, better suited to women than men, and indicative of the wider feminisation of much British life and culture after the First World War. Whilst interested in this discourse for what it tells us about dominant attitudes towards masculinity in the interwar period, the purpose of this chapter is also to examine the lived experiences of working-class men and in particular to examine the ‘social worlds’ that dance halls created. It will highlight the role of dancing and the dance hall as ‘social worlds’ where men negotiated their relationships with women, and developed their own social, gender and personal identities. In the world of the dance hall, men had opportunities often denied them outside. Furthermore, the dance halls’ extremely codified rituals were formative in developing and shaping men’s relationship with women. Thus, the dance hall offered alternative formulations of masculinity beyond the dominant ones championed in the world outside its doors. Drawing upon a range of contemporary newspapers, social surveys, oral histories and Mass-Observation reports, this chapter sheds light on the changing and multidimensional social world of the dance hall in interwar Britain, where men performed a number of social roles and identities to a variety of audiences.

Worlds of social dancing

Dance floor encounters and the global rise of couple dancing, c. 1910–40


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