Saturday night Dancing
Come to think of it, Television probably led to the demise of Saturday night dancing. Long the favourite entertainment and meeting place of teenage boys and girls, and older ones too, dances were tops in popularity in the 1940s and 1950s. There was a dance held somewhere just about every night of the week, and they were never short of patrons. The most popular was the one that was always referred to as the Saturday Night Hop.
There were 'old time' for those who preferred the Gipsy Tap, Barn Dance, Pride of Erin and so on, and 'modern' for those who liked the Quick Step, Foxtrot and Modern Waltz, while the most popular venues provided a mixture of both styles. In the late 50's, Rock & Roll became popular, and those steps were included with the modern steps at some dance halls while others were promoted for Rock 'n Roll only. None of the popular styles were anything like the exaggerated, gymnastic routines performed on TV dance shows. Unlike today, dancers talked and got to know one another while they danced; a prelude to closer relationships if mutually attracted.
At the hall, girls sat around the edge of the dance floor, some with boys, but the majority of the boys congregated at one end of the hall, scanning the girls for someone they might know or for the most attractive ones. When the next dance was announced, the boys would quickly move forward and ask the girl he had selected from afar, if she would like to dance. If she was not interested, she would refuse, but more often than not, she would accompany him to the floor, and the dance would commence.
Getting to know one another was casual and relaxed in these circumstances. After they had danced together a few times, he might ask her if he could take her home, or for her phone number so that he could contact her the next week.
Alcohol was not permitted in dance halls, but it was not uncommon for boys to have a few drinks, for Dutch courage, before going to the dance. Girls were pretty quick to spot someone who had had too much to drink, and would refuse to dance with him.
Dance bands usually consisted of four or five musicians. Piano and drums were common to all, with clarinet, saxophone, trumpet and trombone making up the rest of the instruments. Often, one musician would play two instruments for different numbers. Amplification was adequate but moderate. Dancers could talk to each other without shouting, or maybe whisper in each other's ears.
Balls were the outstanding post war social occasions for young and old alike. Groups of friends formed small parties and booked an alcove for their party, which was roped off or partitioned from adjoining alcoves. Ladies in stunning gowns with their partners in formal dinner suits or tuxedos comprised the party, all looking very smart and attractive. The Balls were organised by various charities, sporting associations or industry groups, often to raise funds for charities.
The Military Ball, The Insurance Ball, The Surf Lifesavers Ball, The Bushwackers Ball and others were very popular, with lots of fun, great suppers, and often with novel and innovative ideas to make the night more fun. At the Post Office Ball, for instance, patrons in one party could send telegrams from their alcove to members of other parties throughout the ball room. As you might imagine, as the night wore on, this might lead to many extraordinary proposals and propositions, few of which were ever taken up.
It was not unusual to mix with several age groups at a Ball, from teenagers to grandparents. Some were more formal than others. Debutants paraded with their partners and were presented to a senior figure at the Catholic, Anglican and Masonic Balls, while ex-servicemen wore their medals on their mess jackets or dinner suits at the Military Balls. The Bushwackers Ball was probably the most informal, where a riotous time of good fun was had by all.
Dancing to Rock 'n Roll music, jiving, followed fairly closely after the release of the movie, "Blackboard Jungle", with it's theme song, "Rock Around the Clock", performed by Bill Haley and the Comets. Argueably this was the start of Rock 'n Roll in Australia at least. It soon became the most popular dance step for teenagers as it was not as difficult to learn as some of the other steps, and allowed a fair bit of free expression.
The steps could be performed to most of the popular old swing numbers played by the regular dance bands. Guitars, electronics and ear-splitting amplification came much later.
Meanwhile back at the '50s!