The making of segregated dancing worlds in South Africa, 1910–39
Klaus Nathaus and James Nott
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.
This chapter explores dance hall culture in Buenos Aires during the 1920s and 1930s, paying special attention to the cultural depictions and lived experiences of young women who patronised dance halls. In particular, it explores the rise of these places and their impact on young women’s leisure time. In order to do this, the first section investigates the development of milongas, academias and cabarets, and analyses the diverse patrons that attended them, the social values these places endorsed and the dances that were in vogue in Buenos Aires during this period. The second section explores female representations and young women’s involvement in dance hall culture. It examines two female types that condensed the moral panic generated by the dance hall, and explores ‘actual’ young women’s visual styles and their encounters with men at the various dance venues. The chapter analyses the yellow press, general interest magazines and women’s magazines in order to examine representations of gender and dance hall culture, and explores how young women experienced them through opinion pieces, advice columns and letters to the editor sections. The historiography on Argentine women in the 1920s and 1930s has explored women’s significant involvement in the public sphere. It has focused, particularly, on the feminist movement and on female political engagement, education and labour market participation from a social history perspective. This article engages with this scholarship and argues that popular culture, and principally beauty, fashion, intimacy and courtship, were relevant practices in the lives of young women as well as crucial discourses in the shaping of their identities.
Working-class men, dancing and the renegotiation of masculinity in interwar Britain
Klaus Nathaus and James Nott
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 explores the huge growth of couple dancing in commercial venues across the globe as a major trend in the history of popular culture in the era of the two World Wars. Looking out for the appearance of modern steps around the geographical world, it also shines a light on the social world of dancing, where conventions that were specific to this realm shaped the conduct of its population. It considers how significant these ‘worlds of dancing’ were for class, gender, race and inter-generational relations, for personal relationships and social interactions. In case studies from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, from Manchester to Johannesburg and from Chelyabinsk to Auckland, the anthology also examines how dance cultures spread around the world and analyses their local adaptations. Finally, the volume asks how, and with what consequences, the mass culture of radio and film affected social dancing as an institution in various parts of the globe.
With a general election in January, Anne Lister needed to keep a sharp eye on her enfranchised tenants. Especially in the new Halifax constituency, every vote counted. She extracted every single Halifax vote that she could. Her Blue candidate, Wortley, won by just one single vote. The reaction of the Whig and the Radical mob was quite violent. Later it became known as ‘the window-breaking election’. There were protests about the legality of the tactics used by Wortley’s supporters. Anne and Ann, up at Shibden, were not immune. The West Riding newspapers printed among their marriage announcements that of Captain Tom Lister to Miss Ann Walker. Anne took this public lampooning in her stride; but Ann found it more difficult. Meanwhile, Anne continued with her coalmining developments at Shibden. High up, isolated Walker pit (named in honour of Ann) would always be small-scale; below Shibden, however, Anne planned her larger and more ambitious Listerwick pit. And she did not stop there: she wanted to obtain a licence for Northgate, the imposing house in Halifax she had inherited. She wanted to run it as a profitable town-centre inn (then known as a ’casino’).
Ann Walker had now moved in to live at Shibden with Anne, her elderly father, irritating sister and much loved aunt. However, Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of relatives living locally – notably the Priestleys in Lightcliffe and the Rawsons down in Halifax. They were suspicious as to why this shy wealthy heiress should leave her own home for Shibden. The Rawsons’ suspicions about Anne Lister further sharpened, as she began to develop her own coalmines – in competition with theirs.
After the death of their brother, Ann Walker and her sister Elizabeth had inherited the large and sprawling Crow Nest estate. The division of their property was always going to be complex. Especially when Captain Sutherland, Elizabeth’s husband, grew suspicious of Anne Lister’s motives in dividing the estate. Luckily, the transactions were handled by smooth-talking lawyers. September ended with a public stone-laying ceremony at Anne’s Northgate Casino in Halifax. Given the recent newspaper lampooning, this was a brave move. It went off without incident, and helped establish a public respectability for Anne and Ann’s relationship. But of course, behind some of the smiles, real tensions remained.
"Female Fortune is the book which inspired Sally Wainwright to write Gentleman Jack, now a major drama series for the BBC and HBO. Lesbian landowner Anne Lister inherited Shibden Hall in 1826. She was an impressive scholar, fearless traveller and successful businesswoman, even developing her own coalmines. Her extraordinary diaries, running to 4–5 million words, were partly written in her own secret code and recorded her love affairs with startling candour. The diaries were included on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2011. Jill Liddington’s classic edition of the diaries tells the story of how Anne Lister wooed and seduced neighbouring heiress Ann Walker, who moved in to live with Anne and her family in 1834. Politically active, Anne Lister door-stepped her tenants at the 1835 Election to vote Tory. And socially very ambitious, she employed architects to redesign both the Hall and the estate. Yet Ann Walker had an inconvenient number of local relatives, suspicious of exactly how Anne Lister could pay for all her grand improvements. Tensions grew to a melodramatic crescendo when news reached Shibden of the pair being burnt in effigy. This 2022 edition includes a fascinating Afterword on the recent discovery of Ann Walker’s own diary. Female Fortune is essential reading for those who watched Gentleman Jack and want to know more about the extraordinary woman that was Anne Lister.