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2015 | 24/1 | 109-117

Article title

Invitation to the Waltz: Dance Hall, Transgressions, and Women in Inter-War Britain


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The dance hall in Britain had always served as the best place for women to meet available men. During the First World War, three million men had died in the battlefields, which created a gross imbalance between the men-women ratio. However Barbara Cartland remembered her contemporaries who “reddened their lips and [went] out to dance when all they loved most [had] been lost” (1942). After the Battle of Somme, hostesses changed their invitations from “Miss–“ to “Miss– and partner,” implying that women would have to bring their own partners. Hence in the dance halls and clubs, traditional gender roles and rules of courtship had been reversed: instead of men courting women, women were now hankering after the few available men. On the other hand, at the Cafe Royal, the Ham Bone Club, and the Cave of Harmony, homosexual women could dance together unafraid, as the dearth of men provided the perfect alibi. In this paper I will examine how dance halls and dance clubs became spatial sites of transgression to prescribed gender roles; how these transgressions led to the blurring of class distinctions; the perception of the problem of homosexuality as arising from the dearth of men; and above all the enacting of gender as performance. To this end, I will refer to Rosamond Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz (1932) and Robert Graves’s and Alan Hodge’s The Long Week-End (1941).


  • University of Sheffield


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