Dance in Australia next 2




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Frank Coughlan

Dancing, of course, went through several dramatic changes. The Charleston faze ushered in a craze for semi bawdy humour based on the ‘flappers’ – the young girls who brazenly danced the Charleston – and several rather priggish songs were created and published in a weekly magazine (Sydney) titled ‘Flapper’. Hollywood influenced the dance world after audiences saw their favourite stars including Clarke Gable, Loretta Young, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rodgers, etc twirling around in glamorous settings. Then came the ‘dance palais’ where live jazz-based orchestras played in venues such as the Trocadero (Sydney). These were extremely popular and often broadcast live to radio. Refer to my Yesterday’s Australia series of CDs and the Frank Coughlan and Barbara James CDs for examples of this fine music. The next wave was jitterbug and, around the same time in the fifties, square dancing, then rock and roll and a flow of gimmick dances including the Twist, Madison, Huckleluck, Stomp and so many more.

The environment for all the above dances, from the WW1 period through to now, did not encourage bawdiness. The exception being the less formal dances in the suburbs and country where dances like the barn dance and sets still survived and so did the tradition of singing along, including bawdy verses. The time around WW2 certainly saw more bawdy songs being sung and my Australian Folklore Unit tapes, especially of women involved with the Land Army include several such ditties.

My father, George Fahey, also sang these songs including Sweet Violets and a bawdy song, Whollop It Home, that offered the enticing chorus:

Put your belly close to mine and wriggle your bum.

One of the songs from the 1950s concerns Kings Cross, Sydney’s late-night red light and club destination. It was set to the Darktown Strutters’ Ball. The last line is sung deliberately slow as a lament.

Kings Cross Harlot’s Ball

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Today’s fast-moving world has little time for singing and dancing has become either an antiquated art form or a move while you are blitzed style. It is certainly not conducive to bawdy song and the demand for louder and louder still has all but killed the custom of singing. You will find the lads, and some of the girls, singing at the occasional B&S, or on a bus to a footie match, or around a bushwalker’s campfire, but that’s about it. Pity. A sign of the times.