The dancing front: dancing, morale, and the war effort in Britain during World War II

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During the Second World War dancing boomed. This article, which discusses social dancing in Britain during the war, is oriented towards questions of morale; the “myth of the Blitz”; and the evolution of attitudes towards popular culture. It looks at how the unofficial efforts of dance hall owners dovetailed with official government efforts to raise morale; how such efforts shared in national myth making, creating a host of images and examples of philanthropy and bravery vital to patriotic propaganda. It also examines how the dance hall industry successfully navigated the challenges of wartime in order to alter perceptions about dancing and secure both its immediate and long-term future. Despite serving important functions, social dancing’s role in the war effort has received little detailed attention. Where it has been studied, emphasis has been placed on episodes of racially motivated conflict at dances, primarily between American GIs. This article will thus provide the first detailed examination of dancing’s wider wartime role. Moreover, it speaks to several key aspects of the historiography of the Second World War and of twentieth century British popular culture. It provides new evidence for the use of recreation and leisure as a strategy for boosting morale during the war. It helps us better understand the nature of propaganda and morale boosting measures taken during the war and highlights the often sluggish response of the government to utilizing all avenues of propaganda. Furthermore, it allows us to consider changing attitudes towards popular culture during wartime.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-406
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social History
Issue number2
Early online date19 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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