Passionate competitors: the foundation of competitive ballroom dancing in South Africa (1920s-1930s)
By the turn of the nineteenth century ballroom dancing had become a popular social pastime in Europe, North-America and South Africa. The years leading up to the First World War saw a number of South African social dancers, like their Western counterparts, striving to perfect the steps of these imported, ballroom dance routines. Dancers danced partly out of a sheer passion for movement but, more importantly, to maintain and increase their social status within society. Various international and later local dancing organisations were formed to organise and control these dancing events. The creation of these formal bodies unavoidably forced ballroom dancing into a competitive phase that transformed it from a mere social past time to a highly competitive sporting activity. This article will focus on how the founding of prominent international ballroom dance organizations influenced the creation of the South African Dance Teachers Association (S.A.D.T.A.) and how both the British and South African organizations developed competitive ballroom dancing during the 1920s and 1930s. It will also consider the infrastructures required by these official organizations, the shortcomings as well as the determining impact that this had on South Africa’s ballroom dance history. As a result of a number of prerequisites, competitive ballroom dancing is not a sport for the masses, and its formalization in the first half of the twentieth century saw an increased segregation in the dancing halls based on race and class. However, the passion that the 1920 ballroom dancers had for competing laid a firm foundation for the development of dance as a sport in South Africa.
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