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Warm-up for ‘Going Dancing: Black Bloomsbury and Dance in the 1940s’

By ucwchrc, on 14 November 2013

Gjon Mili, 1950 © Time Inc.

Gjon Mili, 1950 © Time Inc.

On Friday 15th November from 2 – 3.30pm Kevin Guyan, PhD candidate in the History Department, will explore the dance hall as a site of social and cultural exchange for the black community of Bloomsbury in the 1940s. This participative event will include music and images from the period and will also be an opportunity for those in attendance to share and discuss memories of ‘going dancing’ in the mid-20th century.

Helen Cobby talked to Kevin about his up-coming event and what participants can expect: 

What particularly inspired you during the planning of this event?
The Going Dancing event builds upon a series of talks I ran across in London 2012 that explored people’s experiences of ‘going dancing’ in the 1940s and 1950s.  One particular dance hall that came up a lot in discussions was the Paramount on Tottenham Court Road, a dance hall that was infamous for the mixing of black men and white women in the 1940s.  I knew people would find this historical episode very interesting and it opens up a lot of other themes relating to identity and life in London at that time.

How does it relate to some of the focuses within your own work?
I am broadly interested in 20th Century British social and cultural history and how ideas of identity have been produced through people’s actions and behaviours.  My own research currently looks at men’s use and experiences of domestic spaces in the years following the Second World War; my Going Dance talk adopts a similar approach to dance halls where I argue that people’s sense of identity was shaped by their experiences of the dance hall space.

How and what does it add to strands of the ‘Black Bloomsbury’ exhibition?
A strand that has been emerging during my work with the exhibition over the past few months has been the relationship between space and identity.  The spaces of Bloomsbury in which black people lived, worked and socialised are shown clearly on the exhibition’s large map – I believe that the dance hall presents an excellent example of a social space where a lot of negotiations over race, gender, sexuality and class took place.

What kind of experience can people expect from this event?
It is always my hope that these events offer an impression of the thrill of ‘going dancing’ in the postwar decades, so I make use of photographs, music and discussion to help convey this experience.  Whether people come with their own memories of ‘going dancing’ or are simply keen to learn more about this fascinating period in London’s history, I am confident that people will be able to take a lot from the event.


Helen Cobby is a volunteer at UCL Art Museum and is studying an MA in The History of Art at UCL.

One Response to “Warm-up for ‘Going Dancing: Black Bloomsbury and Dance in the 1940s’”

  • 1
    Tam Francis wrote on 16 November 2013:

    This sounds really cool and right up my alley. I am working on the sequel The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress a fictional vintage swing dance romance novel with blog. I wonder if there is a transcript of your talks. I would love to read them for research and flavor. I am hoping to have my character go to either London or Herrang in this sequel. Thanks 🙂 Best of luck on this project!


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