Dance crazes of the Second World War

By Sue Wilkinson
Monday, 4th May 2020, 3:36 pm
Updated Monday, 4th May 2020, 3:37 pm

In towns, cities and villages throughout England, people marked victory on Friday May 8 1945 by taking to the streets to celebrate with singing and, of course, dancing.

As recalled in Melody Maker’s account of the revels “From one end of the country to the other people, relaxing after nearly six years of the most terrible anxieties, wanted to dance.”Dance halls played a huge part in keeping up morale during the war. Every town and village had a hall where dancing could take place.

The bigger dance halls had orchestras, the smaller ones had a three-piece band or records, sometimes only a piano.

In the large halls you danced on sprung floors, or at least highly polished and prepared floors.In small halls it was plank floors with nails sticking up or concrete with linoleum squares glued down. NAAFI or Garrison Theatre type floors were often polished linoleum.

Any kind of footwear would do, but some had dancing pumps and others wore what they had, down to hobnail boots, which would be frowned on if it was a polished floor.Most people could dance, after a fashion!Dance halls remained popular long after the war was over with rock ’n’ roll overtaking swing.

As we commemorate 75th anniversary of VE Day on Friday May 8, Your Time looks at some of the dance crazes of the time.

The 1940s dance styles were all centered around swing dance.

The dance developed with jazz and swing music.

The moves were different in many ways, all around the country.Professional ballroom dancing, as opposed to everyday dancing, began to take a form of entertainment and artistic sport during the 1940s, thus officially marking the birth of DanceSport.

Examples included ...Jitterbug: Swing dancers who danced without any control or knowledge of proper dance moves, typically because the dancers were drunk - its name derived from slang, alcoholics with the “jitters”.Swing; Various types of swing dances, including the Lindy Hop, Jive, the Big Apple, West Coast Swing, the Whip, the Push, and the East Coast Swing, were referred to as the “jitterbug” dance.West coast swing: Straight lines, thinner slots, made in Hollywood so more people’s faces could fit on the screen for a movie while still dancingJive: introduced by UK, Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Jive Tal, calmer version of jitterbug/East Coast swing.

Lindy Hop: An important dance craze of the day. Inspired by jazz, tap and Charleston, it was introduced to the UK by the American soldiers stationed here during World War Two and, as the perfect mood enhancer during difficult times, quickly became a firm favourite in the dance halls of Britain.

Expert lindy hoppers will be sent out to counties across the north west to help people Dance for VE Day, a day of celebrations organised by English Heritage to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Picture courtesy English Heritage

The Cake Walk: Traditional African American form of music and dance which originated among slaves in South America mocking their white slave-owners’ dancing. Typically, couples would link elbows, lined up in a circle, dancing forward alternating a series of short hopping steps with a series of very high kicking steps.Cake, or slices of cake, were offered as prizes for the best dancers, giving the dance its name.The phrase ‘a piece of cake’ also comes from this practice.

Jive dancing is a fast and very spirited Latin dance, made popular in the 1940s by young Americans who adopted the movements to fit with the emerging sounds of rock ’n roll.Approaching Friday’s VE Day 75th anniversary, experts in historical performance English Heritage aim to bring this feel-good dance to community events across the country.

It has produced a step by step guide to the most popular dance, Lindy Hop ...

The Swing Out is a cornerstone Lindy Hop move. It’s danced in eight counts and is a basic building block for other dance steps.STEP 1 Rock step - take a step back with your full weight, then transfer the weight to your front foot while keeping it in place.STEP 2 Triple step - take a step to your side. Bring your feet together. Take another step to your side.STEP 3WalkSTEP 4WalkSTEP 5Triple stepWhen you triple step, swing the rhythm three-a-four, or long-short-short.