Similar steps, different venues
The making of segregated dancing worlds in South Africa, 1910–39
in Worlds of social dancing
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During the first half of the twentieth century, the South African ballroom scene saw opportunity for growth. As a British colony, it was, in a sense, an extension of the United Kingdom: British enough to follow dancing trends and expert guidance, and international enough to allow for a variety of global, Americanised influences. This allowed the dances to be morphed so that they were practically and morally suited to their domestic ballrooms. This chapter explores how the diverse and segregated communities living in Johannesburg experienced, imagined and (re)created the social dances that they imported from the UK and the USA.  Though in different venues, by the late 1930s black and white couples in the city danced very much the same steps to the same music. This chapter uses oral histories and contemporary published sources to trace the making of Johannesburg’s dancing worlds. Through this lens, it focuses on situational factors: asking where dance halls were located; who danced; what infrastructures developed around dancing; what music was selected to dance to; who judged at dance competitions; and what dances were danced. The chapter follows the fashionable theatre tangoes of the 1910s and continues to trace dancing trends and their surrounding infrastructures until the late 1930s.  It concludes with an exploration of the vibrant jive of the early 1940s and explains how social couple dancing became all-night affairs with improvisation in the townships – in contrast with the more codified dance events in the white commercial dance halls.

Worlds of social dancing

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

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