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Dance Culture in the 40s and 50s

August 16, 2011

Covelli is the hub for perpetually stylish rock n roll wear, dance shoes and a number of other fantastic vintage finds. We’ve talked fashion, makeup, history and lifestyle so it’s time for a few words on dance in the vintage era!

The origins of the wildly popular swing dance can be traced back to the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in 1926. The savoy was a huge success, with its one-of-a-kind block-long dance floor. The nightly dances attracted some of the best dancers in New York.

Dozens of regional swing dance variations were alive simultaneously in the USA, Europe and Australia. Due to its popularity, the swing dance evolved into a number of different forms over the years;

  • Lindy Hop evolved in the late 1920s and early 1930s as the original swing dance. It is characterised by an emphasis on improvisation and the ability to easily adapt to include steps from other 8-count and 6-count Swing styles. It has been danced to almost every conceivable form of jazz music, as well as to the blues, and any other type of music with a blues or jazz rhythm.
  • Balboa is an 8-count dance that emphasizes a strong partner connection and quick footwork. Balboa is primarily danced in a tight, closed position with the follow and lead adopting a firm chest-to-chest posture. This dance is particularly popular in settings with fast jazz and/or limited floor space, though it is also danced to slower tempos.
  • Blues dancing today is an informal type of swing dancing with no fixed patterns and a heavy focus on connection, sensuality and improvisation, often with strong body contact. Although usually done to blues music, it can be done to any slow music, including rock ballads and “club” music. Historically, there are many different types of blues dancing, including the slow drag. Blues is occasionally danced alone in swing dance communities, though almost never outside the United States. There are only small (if any) blues dancing communities within the wider swing dancing communities outside the United States and Europe.


Typical Rock n Roll outfit

Rock and Roll
Rock nd Roll was another fanatically popular dance movement. Developing in the 1950s in response to rock and roll music, it was very popular in Australia and was danced socially, competitively and in performances. There are ongoing debates about whether rock and roll constitutes swing dancing, particularly in reference to the music to which it is danced: there is some debate as to whether or not it swings. Either way, it is an intriguing art form.

Throughout the 1950s, young women’s clothing was heavily influenced by the rock ‘n’ roll craze. Full skirts in bright colours become popular for dancing and skirts and pants were pinched in at the waist to emphasise the waist and bust. Young women also wore tight-fitting blouses tucked into slim-line calf-length trousers called ‘Capri’ pants or ‘pedal pushers’. Short ankle socks, scarves tied around the neck and cropped cardigans were also popular.

Back in the 1940′s  and 50’s, there wasn’t usually a pair of  shoes set aside specifically for dancing. Everyday shoes of the time had smooth leather soles, so they were suitable for dancing and as street wear. Some people did save certain shoes for evenings and these were probably worn for swing dances as well. However since swing dancing was mostly a young persons activity and young kids were more causal than their elders it wasn’t uncommon to see the youth dancing in sandals or casual loafers.

One really big difference between the 1940′ and any other era is the materials shoes were made of. With the Second World War in full swing, most leather was manufactured into equipment and boots for the soldiers. That meant ladies had to use other materials. Velvet, mesh, and reptile skins were the most available and sturdy shoe materials. Everyday shoes of the 1940′s consisted of several new styles the slingback, peep toe, wedge and mixes of these styles were what every women had in her closet.




The Savoy was an immediate success with its block-long dance floor and a raised double bandstand. Nightly dancing attracted most of the best dancers in the New York area of every race.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. marilyn permalink
    August 16, 2011 11:17 pm

    My mum danced 7 nights a week in the UK before the second world war, they had fantatic dance halls every where, and great, Big bands a era gone by.

    • August 22, 2011 5:52 pm

      Hi Marilyn, I agree, the dance of that era was an amazing art form. Might you have any pictures of your mum in full swing (no pun intended) 🙂 ?


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