Inside Outing at the Rivoli Ballroom

I gave a presentation on Dance Floor Fashions at a V&A event, ‘Inside Outing: Ballrooms’ yesterday, which prompted some reflections on the interaction between music, fashion and culture. Researching the talk, I was struck by the openness of British culture to new musical ideas from unexpected places. Not only were blues and jazz records brought in by American servicemen and sailors from the 1940s onwards, there were dance clubs where you could keep up with the Cuban steps like the mambo. It was also striking how quickly fashions in dances changed – the cha-cha-cha was new and sexy in the early 1950s but by the 1960s had been tamed for ballroom dancing competitions. Dances also depended on fashion for their effect – the hip movements of the mambo were emphasized by tight skirts, and doing the twist made any skirt a mini. Venues like the Rivoli Ballroom, which has vintage dance nights, give us a chance to see how fashion, dance and music from a specific period interact.

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