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No Mean City: 1914 to 1950s

Culture and Leisure


By Irene Maver

Student Party, 1938 The period between the start of the First World War in 1914 and up to the mid-1950s represented the golden age of social dancing in Glasgow. Initially this did not seem so, as the extraordinary circumstances of war restricted social activities and ballrooms and other large spaces were often requisitioned for military purposes. Yet young people welcomed the opportunity to dance as a diversion from the conflict. Transatlantic jazz rhythms, stimulated at first by the popularity of the gramophone and then by the radio, helped to fuel public enthusiasm.

Locarno Ballroom While American influences dominated, the formation of the Scottish Country Dance Society in Glasgow in 1923 revealed the resilience of traditional preferences. Outlets for dancing in the 1920s were also diverse, ranging from community halls to elaborate "Palais" ballrooms, such as the Plaza at Eglinton Toll. Opening in 1922, the Plaza's stylish multi-coloured lighting system and steel sprung floors indicated the high standards expected by patrons. Over the decade Glasgow acquired eleven first-rank Palais de Dance, including the Locarno (1926) and the mammoth Green's Playhouse Ballroom (1928).

Barrowland Ballroom Glasgow's dancing boom peaked during the Second World War, when the city had at least eighty dance halls. These held their allure up to the mid-1950s, but gradually strict tempo ballroom dancing declined in popularity, as the less formal styles of the rock 'n' roll era found favour with young people. However, Glaswegians' commitment to dancing did not abate. While fashions constantly changed, enthusiasm for traditional dance forms – whether Scottish or Irish – remained buoyant.

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