A Short History of Dance

I picked up a flyer the other day for Rebellion Festivals which, I discover, take place in London and Amsterdam next year. Oh, and there’s a four-day event at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool – a venue I associate with much daintier and more decorous leisure pursuits like ballroom dancing. Here are poster images of the Empress and nearby Tower Ballrooms from their heyday in 1938:

Image result for ballroom dancing winter gardens blackpool

The Blackpool Tower Ballroom (from an original painting by Fortunino Matania, R.I.) - From a 1938 programme for the Winter Gardens Complex

I wonder what these audiences would have made of the pogo-inducing punk bands who will be playing at the Rebellion Festival 80 years later. But setting aside the culture chasm, those conventional 1938 crowds and their 2018 punk progeny do have one thing in common – both are a decade into austerity arising from a major financial crash.

We may or may not be talking about similar social stratas but it’s still worth considering how different generations respond to economic adversity: in 1938 by escaping into a conformist gentility originating in our aristocratic past and in 2018 by, er, escaping into an anti-bourgeois revolt with working-class roots. Two escapes: the first escapist and the second more akin to escapology.

It was the cheeky insouciance of the Beatles that first turned the tables on the cultural dominance of the upper crust’s Hooray Henrys and Henriettas. The Fab Four got their feet in the door and 15 years later the punks kicked it open. Deference had disappeared and with it – or so it seemed – the hypocrisy of sweeping stuff under the carpet and drawing a discreet veil over, ahem, unsavoury subjects.

You can hear the resounding echo of all that iconoclasm in the names of bands appearing at the Winter Gardens. Several I recognised but here are some I didn’t:

Lower Class Brats
Peter & The Test Tube Babies
Dirtbox Disco
Toxic Reasons
Gimp Fist
Culture Shock
The Defects
Newtown Neurotics
Vice Squad
Rubella Ballet
The Stupids
Los Fastidios
Rude Pride
Cheap Sex
Paranoid Visions
Barstool Preachers
Drongos For Europe
The Crippens
Hagar The Womb
The Restarts
Choking Susan
Spunk Volcano & The Eruptions
Hands Off Gretel
Geoffrey Oicott
Knock Off
Wolf Bites Boy
The Mis-Made
Tiger Sex
Headstone Horrors
Boots N All
Surgery Without Research
Flowers In The Dustbin
Millie Manders & The Shut Up
Fire Exit
No Thrills
The Droogettes

What teenager worthy of the seventy-year-old label hasn’t wasted an afternoon or three sitting around with a couple of mates inventing stupid names for bands? I remember being hugely impressed with one that Peter Sellers came up with, probably on one of his solo record albums produced in his pre-Beatle days by George Martin who also produced the Goons’ records such as the immortal Ying Tong Song:

What a treat for us kids to hear grown-ups coming up with such inspired nonsense! And the band name that impressed me so much? Snotty and the Nosepickers!

Hmm, guess you had to be there … wearing short trousers and still laughing like a drain when references to anything mildly rude arose. This was the stuffy 1950s, of course, when the scope for cultural rebellion was so much wider. Tiger Sex or Knock Off   wouldn’t have got anywhere near the Winter Gardens at a time when TV would only show Elvis the Pelvis from the waist up.

The 1960s – much-maligned by sexual puritans and social conservatives – brought an end to paternalist censorship. Abortion and homosexuality became legal, capital punishment was abolished and measures were taken to improve the position of women. The 1970s brought further social reform, including the Race Relations Act.

The economic deregulations of the 1980s were, in my view, a backward step. The responsibility of Maynard Keynes was replaced by the anarchy of Milton Friedman, which culminated in the 2008 crash and consequent austerity – an austerity that bears down unfairly on the young.

If I was 18 now, with hair, I’d be dyeing it green … and dying to pogo up and down to a punk band called Screw The System or something! Better anyway than having to take part in dance marathons for peanuts, like youngsters 80 years ago, before they were marched off to fight in a war whose primary cause was the very same Depression that had forced them to dance for their dinner and a temporary roof over their heads in the first place.

Image result for dance marathon

Ah, what the hell, enough of this Black mood … I’m going to cheer myself up with another listen to the Ying Tong Song!

Images:     Arthur Lloyd      History By Zim

22 thoughts on “A Short History of Dance

  1. Long live the punks! Looking at the big picture, as you present it, I am surprised the kids of 1938 were not more rebellions too. Now I hear Johnny Rotten is being considered for knighthood, so I guess things have really gone full circle. Screw The System would be a great name for a band!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too, Christine, though I think there was more deference – even fear – around then. I get punk these days, I think, more than I did. I wonder if the rumour about ‘Sir John’ is political – so much is these days – in view of his alleged approval of Brexit/Trump etc. My (very long) post ‘A Life in Music’ describes my shifting view of The Sex Pistols …


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      1. Ah, wow Dave! What a musical journey you have written in that piece! I read the whole thing. I too love many of those bands. I am from Chicago, you know, so I am another Chicago friend with a record collection full of Beatles, Stones, Animals, Zep, etc. Plus the Sex Pistols, Clash, Jam… the list goes on! Still my favorites to this day.

        I once sat in on a panel to discuss the influence of American Soul/ R & B on British music. It is a topic that fascinates me. John Lennon once said there would be no Beatles without Elvis, which is a great nod to the US, I think,

        It would be sort of funny to see John Lydon get a knighthood, but I would like to see it! Reportedly he does support Brexit and Trump, he has his reasons… If you ever read his book ‘ No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish’ you can learn a lot about his opinions.

        Anyway it is all fascinating stuff. You were lucky to attend so many festivals!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks so much for sticking with it, Christine, it means a lot to me. Music has always hit me deeply, maybe the only thing I allow through my emotion filter or whatever. The musical love affair between America and Britain is the stuff of myths and legends, I think. America was such a melting pot for music, blending African rhythm with Celtic melody. Soul music indeed! Must read Mr Lydon’s book – I always liked his forthright (and often just right) views and so would be happy to cut him some slack this time. Anyway, thanks again for your considered response, Christine!

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          1. I loved reading your piece! I am always interested in how music affects people, as it has had such an influence on my own life. America was a fertile ground for the melting pot of music. But then the British Invasion bands took that and made it into something totally unique! The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street is still my all time favorite album — I always said they took Chicago Blues, mixed with New Orleans Jazz and infused it with English blood to create something really raw and fresh! If you do read Lydon’s book, let me know what you think!

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            1. EOMS the Stones’ best, I think, though as to my favourite – so many to choose from, an embarrassment of riches. Love UK music though the USA still my #1 – so many styles and genres and the playing is second to none. But the marriage between our countries took it all to a new level. Lydon’s book is on my TBR list. My tastes change all the time but off the top of my head Revolver from here and Paul Kantner’s Blows Against The Empire from there. Tomorrow never knows, though … 🙂

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  2. When I was a teenage Sandman I managed to almost get a small production of the Goon Show episode “The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea” into the school talent show. I say nearly because a member of staff decided that we were plagiarising Monty Python… And despite my efforts to point out that the Goons were pre-Python nothing became of it. I strongly suspect that it simply too silly for his taste and decided that people would prefer shortened versions of Waiting for Godot and The Caretaker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Love your phrase ‘managed to almost get’ … I actually succeeded in nearly making humanity see the error of its ways but I don’t think I’ll put it on my CV just yet! I admire your failed attempt on behalf of funny – the humourless baskets don’t deserve us, do they? That teacher sounds a real ignoramus, not recognising Goons’ material and being unaware of its influence on the Pythons. Beckett and Pinter are Spike Milligan without the humour, really. If you’re interested, I wrote an appreciation of Spike – link below:



  3. There has been a definite decline in elegance over the course of history. Here in the U.S., people go to the grocery store in their pajamas. Our big music thing here is Hip Hop and even little kids try to mimic the actions of thugs. Not good! I do have to say that Surgery Without Research is growing on me, though 😀


    1. You’re right, I’m sure. Not sure how I feel about it – social styles are always a reaction to power balances, or lack of them. I agree that glamorising crime is very wrong, though. But then it’s up to mainstream society to provide effective role models … ah well, turning into a Barstool Preacher!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Being a child, or at least a young adult of the 60s, I was definitely into rebellion. I never made it into punk rock. I may have had a paranoid vision, however. I just don’t remember.
    Your name list is really humorous, Dave. –Curt


    1. Yeah, couldn’t resist posting it – I like Flowers In The Dustbin and Millie Manders & The Shut Up! I think I was rather conformist in the 60s so maybe I’m having my teens in old age …


  5. I recently sat around trying to come up with names for a website and it was daunting. I admire those folks that can list dozens of fun sounding titles without even batting an eyelash! Fun post! I could hear the beat of a thousand pogo sticks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jumping up and down is a lot easier than doing the twist. I finally learned how to do it only to learn it was out of fashion! My favourite list is Alan Partridge trying to pitch ideas for new TV shows to a station head.

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