Popular Dance In The Twentieth Century

Popular dance in the twentieth century clearly mirrors the vast changes in moral, material values and attitudes worldwide. Dances have appeared and disappeared, sometimes with amazing rapidity, or they have been temporarily forgotten and reappeared in modified form years later. The formative influences of this era came from America and not as earlier from Europe.

Ragtime rooted in Black American music emerged in the late 1890s. This was a period of popular dance crazes imitating animals, for example the turkey trot, the grizzly bear and the bunny hug. At this time Tango swept in from Argentina.

The 20s are synonymous with the Jazz Age. AS popular dance was the Lindy Hop. It was performed by a couple to Big Band Swing music. It got its name from the American aviator Charles Lindburgh’s 1927 solo flight or “hop” across the Atlantic. There were two styles. One style had intricate footwork, spins and floor steps while the other features acrobatic aerial movements. This dance originated in the New York area of Harlem. Later the Lindy Hop developed into the jitterbug and in this form was exported by the GIs to Europe in the 1940s.

The most popular dance of the 1920s was the Charleston. This could be a solo, a partner or a group dance. Characteristically knees and toes were turned in and the body weight was moved from leg to leg. There were kicks to the front and side with much movement of the hands and arms. The dance originated in Charleston, South Carolina and like many others was originally a Black Folk dance.The Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought the Jazz Age to an end.

The most popular dance of the 1920s was the Charleston. This could be a solo, a partner or a group dance. Characteristically knees and toes were turned in and the body weight was moved from leg to leg. There were kicks to the front and side with much movement of the hands and arms. The dance originated in Charleston, South Carolina and like many others was originally a Black Folk dance.The Stock Market Crash of 1929 brought the Jazz Age to an end.

At the 1939 World Fair in U.S.A a Brazilain orchestra played sambas. This aroused enormous enthusiasm for South American popular dances such as the rumba, mambo and chachacha. The sensuous freedom of the dances came at a time when women were gaining in confidence and independence while the men were away at war during the 1940s.

The 1950s were a time when teenage rebellion first really appeared on the scene. Rock ‘n Roll met with great enthusiasm from this age group and with disapproval by those in authority who feared for the morals of the young. The period coincided with the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War (1959-1975). Bill Haley and the Comets with “Rock Around the Clock” will forever be associated with this time.

In the 1960s Chubby Checker and The Twist hit the scene. The Twist could be danced solo without contact with a partner. The Twist was performed with swinging hips and upper body and both partners did their own thing. Hundreds of people sometimes occupied the floor at any one time.

Other popular dances of the time were the Pony, Jerk, Funky Chicken and the Mashed Potato. These dances were the beginning of the end for close partner dancing for quite some time.

Soul becomes the hit of the discotheques and “Swinging London” is the disco capital of Europe.
1970 is the era of Rock. Rock is different to Rock ‘n Roll in that it usually relied on heavily amplified electronic instruments. Rock quickly became divided into various categories from Heavy Metal to Punk. The emphasis with Rock seemed often to be the release of agression with no interest in the aesthetic factor. Runk Rock brought in Slam Dancing which involved leaping, jumping and sometimes physical attack.
The 1978 popular dance movie “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta greatly helped to increase the interest in disco dancing.

In the 60s and 70s country dancing benefited from a more widespread folk revival.
Between 1970 and the 1980s contradictory trends in popular dance appeared. Couple dancing returned with the Hustle and other couple dances with complicated choreography performed to disco music.

At the same time nostalgia was in the air. The Big Band Sound was revived with fox-trots, waltzes and jitterbugs. Rap music was all the rage in the 1980s with it came “Break Dancing”. This acrobatic solo dancing began among urban Black youths in the U.S.A. It involved various spins on the back, head and arms, as well as quick footwork, handstands and other complex moves.

In the 1980s Ceroc and Le Roc enjoyed great popularity. Both dances are French versions of the Jive. The TV series “Fame”, “Flashdance” in 1983 and “Dirty Dancing in 1987 created great interest among young people.

The 1990s introduced the enormously popular Lambada from Brazil and Salsa which developed in Cuba. Clubbing took over in this era with DJs mixing their own music. Dance rhythms dominated popular music. Macarena, a dance performed in groups, spread to the U.S after enjoying immense popularity in spanish-speaking countries.

Country Line Dancing ,which had been popular in the southern states of America since the mid- twentieth century, spread to the urban areas. This went hand in hand with a new interest in country music. It was inspired by square dancing and involved simple steps with the participants facing each other in lines.

Dance fads come and go with startling rapidity today. Each new trend finds its’ own enthusiasticd supporters who continue the dance even after general interest has waned. There is now an increasing interest in ballroom dancing. Perhaps people are looking for boundaries and pre-established rules as to how a dance is to be executed. In turbulent times people look for security and this expresses itself in many aspects of our lives. Dance can certainly play an important part in building a feeling of shared and happy community experience. We need this more than ever before.

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