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"Cocktail Dancing": What's in a Name?

Cocktail DancingAs anyone who has seen my social media posts for the last couple of years will know, I have been focused on recreating the social dances of the 1920s, 30s and ‘40s – not the youth dances like Charleston and Swing (they don’t need my help) but the, at the time, far more widely danced Foxtrots, Waltzes and Tangos.

I have come to the conclusion that this style of dance I have been advocating is really its own style, distinct from modern ballroom, swing dance etc. It really needs its own name.

These dances, in their original forms, were far less structured, far less strictly defined, far more intimate and far easier than their current “Dancing With the Stars” or "International Ballroom" forms. It is a style of dance that I think has a lot to offer our modern world, and I would love to see it revived and spread beyond a narrow, historical dress-up sort of audience.

At the time, these dances were called “The Modern Dances”, but “Modern Dance” is a term that has become inextricably associated in our own time with styles of artistic performance dance – successors to ballet, so “Modern Dance” is pretty much taken, and another name is required to describe this unique style. Besides, “modern” is an adjective that has something of a set “sell by” date, and becomes just a bit ironic when applied to a dance style that’s about a century old.

I have been referring to them as “Jazz Age Social Dances”, which sets them in their proper historical context, but also locks them into the past. It defines them as a museum artifact. It’s as if you called Swing Dancing “Great Depression Dancing” or “World War Two Dancing”.

I suspect a hard-wired link to the past could be impediment to a broader acceptance of this sort of dancing.

So, what can we call this style, with its focus on social connection, simple enjoyment and sophistication, that conveys its unique spirit and essence?

How about “Cocktail Dancing”? These dances seem like the perfect complement to the current revival of “cocktail culture” with its focus on cool sophistication. Back in the day, cocktails and dancing certainly were inextricably linked. Watch any old movie scene set in a stylish night club and there, in the background or foreground are well dressed people dancing in this smooth, easy, intimate style.

I see no reason why modern people, in their modern clothes, between sips of their “curated cocktails”, as a moderate tempo current Top 40 hit plays in the background, couldn’t take each other in a relaxed, intimate embrace and move to the music - not “grinding” or “High School Slow Dance”, but because it’s about smooth sophistication, in a cool, refined but free and easy way.

Perhaps I am totally daft in thinking this sort of thing could have any resonance today. Maybe the current social scene, with its near total lack of dancing – not withstanding the occasional exception of “club dancing” with its freestyle solo gyrations and ear-splitting, conversation-killing volumes, fully satisfies the needs of our modern world – it’s perfect and not in need of any improvement. Or perhaps there are some folks who might like something more intimate, sophisticated and easy-going – a truly social sort of dancing that allows people of all ages and backgrounds to make a real connection with one another. Perhaps there is room for improvement in today's social scene, and we can find suggestions for that improvement in any number of black and white movies.

So, “Cocktail Dancing” anyone?