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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914

Culture and Leisure


By Irene Maver

 Athenaeum opening Attitudes changed dramatically towards dancing in Glasgow between the 1830s and 1914. By the early Victorian period the traditional dance assemblies had come to be regarded as the lingering vestiges of old elite society. Middle class advocates of "rational" recreation, notably the influential temperance movement, suggested that dancing was socially undesirable as it encouraged promiscuity and vanity. Significantly, in 1847, the Ingram Street Assembly Rooms were transformed into the Glasgow Athenaeum, an institution dedicated to adult education.

Fashions and... Quadrilles Yet dancing remained popular among all sections of the community, and Glaswegians embraced new forms, such as the polka, introduced in the 1840s. As wealthier residents shifted to the suburbs, so also did the dance academies. By the 1860s the emphasis was on "dancing and deportment", appealing overwhelmingly to young women in pursuit of grace and elegance. The writer J J Bell (1871-1934) recalled a "carpet" dance held in his parents' west-end home during the 1880s. There was considerable formality in arrangements, and the most popular dances were quadrilles, waltzes and polkas.

Engagement card From the 1890s, with rising living standards and the shorter working week, there was a surge of popular interest in learning to dance. Instruction became increasingly sophisticated. The flamboyant tango, from Argentina, was first demonstrated at the Alhambra Theatre in 1913, and immediately caught the public imagination. Partner dances from the United States also had a huge following, notably the foxtrot, introduced in 1914. By this time Glaswegians were inspired by the syncopated rhythms of American ragtime, and dancing was booming business.

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