Female Dancers on the Variety Stage in Mid-Twentieth-Century Britain

Authored by: Nicholas Larraine

The Routledge Companion to Dance Studies

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138234581
eBook ISBN: 9781315306551
Adobe ISBN:


 Download Chapter



The lights lower, the orchestra finishes its overture of popular tunes, the curtains swish back, and the first act comes on stage. This will most probably be a dancing act. It may be a tapping ‘sister act,’ a trio with at least one female performer, or a chorus line of sixteen high-kicking ‘chorus girls,’ but always a version of feminine attraction holds the act together. There is sensual allure in the soft swirl of long skirts and ostrich feathers, and in costumes that shine and sparkle. There is sexual appeal in the selective revelation of bodies: show-of-leg in short skirts, trunks, or leotards; exposure of other erogenous zones in plunging necklines or tantalizingly bare midriffs. The dynamic is up-beat in the rhythm of the dance and in the outgoing expressions of the dancers. A dancing act (often a song-­and-dance) signifies that the show has begun, with energy flowing out from the performers to ‘warm up’ the audience. Something like it will open the second half after the interval, and in some shows these dancing women will appear again and again, in different costumes, expending nearly as much energy in the backstage work of preparation as in the on-stage interaction with the audience. Most professional stage dancers in twentieth-century Europe and America were not employed on opera house or other concert dance stages but in theaters, cabarets, and clubs. Largely unsung by mainstream dance historiography, these female performers have always been essential to the artistic and economic success of popular entertainment.

Search for more...
Back to top

Use of cookies on this website

We are using cookies to provide statistics that help us give you the best experience of our site. You can find out more in our Privacy Policy. By continuing to use the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.