ABSTRACT

The history of the eradication of superfluous motion in modernity came to the fore at a meeting in the late afternoon of Wednesday, May 12, 1920, at the Grafton Galleries in London. Two hundred dance teachers from around Britain met to discuss the condition of dance—particularly ballroom dance—in London and the provinces. The meeting had been called by the editor of the Dancing Times, Philip Richardson, who in his History of Ballroom Dancing recalled that: “It seemed highly desirable to me, as editor of the Dancing Times, that something should be done to call a halt to freakish dancing before it became something worse.” 1 In this chapter I explore the processes of standardization of movement in ballroom dancing that preceded and followed this meeting. The movement of dance seems, at first glance, to inhabit a different world from the movement of work. Work appears to be the realm of unfreedom and constraint, while dance is often thought of as a realm of freedom, pleasure, and play. 2 Dance is an activity associated with free time—the weekend, the night. But it is not as simple as this. The history of dance, like the history of work, reveals the operations of an array of disciplinary practices and deep-rooted ideologies of mobility. In this chapter, then, we will see how ballroom dancing became enmeshed in beliefs about appropriate and inappropriate mobility. In particular we will see how the development of ballroom dancing is founded on its own constitutive outside—the dance of African- and Latin-American cultures. Mobility, as in the preceding chapters, is not set against place or immobility, but against other, disreputable forms of mobility. This chapter traces the process by which ballroom dancing in Britain and the commonwealth was produced in relation to the dance of clubs in Britain and the Americas. The dancing body that emerges at the end of the process is surely one that experiences pleasure, but one that, nonetheless, embodies a complex process of exclusion and othering. As with the examples of Taylor and the Gilbreths, it is an account of the production of correct movement.