Get ready to dance at Goodwood Revival

28th April 2022
Caroline Roberts

From the village hall hop to a swish night out at the palais, dancing was once a huge part of life. And there will be plenty of bopping at the Goodwood Revival, so dust off your dancing shoes and join us on a quickstep through the dance crazes of the time.


In the mid-century decades, going dancing was second only in popularity to the cinema and in the early fifties it was estimated that 70% of couples met at a dance hall. On Saturday night, you could leave behind the drudgery of the working week and step out at the local palais de danse with its sparkling chandeliers, expanse of maple floor and heady aroma of Brylcreem, Eau de Cologne and wood polish.

At Revival, you can relive some of that fun and glamour. Learn the steps in a workshop, head Over the Road to dance to live music in the Valdoe Bar, or see how the professionals do it in the vintage films at the Revival Cinema. Or just enjoy some impromptu bopping among the bunting and vintage cars.


Bopping through the blitz

When war broke out, the government made a half-hearted attempt to close dance venues before realising how important they were to morale. The buzzing dance halls were the epitome of the blitz spirit and stories abound of bands playing on during air raids, drowning out the sound of the sirens.

Popular dances included the traditional foxtrot, quickstep, waltz and tango, often learnt at dancing classes or at even at school. There were also ‘party dances’ with simple steps, such as the Lambeth Walk with its thumbs-in-braces strutting and the Blackout Stroll, during which the hall would be suddenly plunged into darkness, no doubt prompting a bit of hanky panky. Those in the services often danced in uniform and outfits were accessorised with a gas mask. Some venues even supported public education campaigns by reducing their entrance fee for those who remembered that vital piece of wartime PPE.

Guys and girls would congregate on opposite sides of the dancefloor and eye each other across the divide. As the social mores of the time dictated, it was the men who did the asking unless it was a special ‘ladies’ choice’ event. If a girl turned down an offer, she was expected to sit out the rest of that dance. Her feet must have itched if she was then approached by a handsome American GI!


The arrival of swing

Lindy hop, jitterbug, boogie-woogie and jive are all variations of the high-energy style of partner dance that we now often refer to as ‘swing’. Danced to big band music, it was born in the clubs of 1920s Harlem and incorporated steps from many other dances including charleston, jazz and tap. Expert dancers displayed amazing athleticism with their ‘aerial steps,’ somersaulting and flipping their partners.

Swing dance had arrived in Britain before the war via the movies, but the 1942 influx of GIs prompted a surge in its popularity. Cue a wave of moral outrage. Some venues decided that there was no way nice British girls were going to be flying through the air flashing their knickers and implemented a ‘no jiving’ policy.


The rock and roll years

The growth of the record industry throughout the ‘50s meant that vinyl began to replace the live dance band. It was also the decade that rock and roll music swept the world, with acts such as Elvis, Bill Haley and Buddy Holly topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. Swing dance styles were perfect for the fast-tempo music and rock and rollers put their own stamp on the genre, calling it jive.

The 1955 release of the film ‘Blackboard Jungle’ with its rock and roll soundtrack opening with Bill Haley’s hit ‘Rock Around the Clock’ had teenagers dancing in the cinema aisles. Teddy boys adopted it as their preferred music style and were soon jiving away in their drape jackets and drainpipe trousers, the girls in their circle skirts and starched petticoats. At Revival, you can immerse yourself in the spirit of the decade at Over the Road’s Butlin’s Rock N Roll Ballroom.


Let’s do the Twist

By the ‘60s, solo dancing was becoming a thing. Chubby Checker’s hit song ‘The Twist’ sparked a worldwide dance craze that arrived in the UK in 1962. Part of its appeal was down to it being an easy dance that virtually anyone could get the hang of – just like drying your bottom with a towel, as Checker put it. It was dance that allowed you to express yourself and, in many ways, it mirrored the increasing freedoms in society. There was no leader and follower, no set steps and women no longer had to wait to be asked to dance.

The twist was followed by a series of shorter-lived dance crazes, often inspired by hit songs. The mashed potato was reminiscent of the swivelling, heels-in-heels-out charleston step. To do the swim, you shook your hips while mimicking various swimming strokes with your arms and sinking down while holding your nose. The batusi, as performed by Batman in an early episode of the TV show, involved forming a V-shape with your fingers and drawing your hands horizontally across your eyes with palms facing out. Pepper your twist with a few of these moves and you’ll really be a groovy chick or cool cat.


Polish up your footwork

If you want to get up to speed before the big event, you can find lots of retro dance classes around the country as well as online. Swing Out London lists swing dance classes in the capital, or visit AreYouDancing for countrywide listings of swing and other dance styles. You’ll find loads of free classes on YouTube but if you want a more structured online course, try Swingzing for swing era dances or LearntoDance for a variety of other styles.

Of course, you’ll want to get your outfit right too. Check out our essential Revival style tips, and advice on how to put together your Revival wardrobe or how to buy vintage at auction. If you can bag yourself a true vintage treasure, you can bet it will have done a few twirls around the palais in its time.

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