Dancing Culture of the 1940s

By Khyentse James

During the 1940s, dancing dominated American nightlife. A night out might involve seeing a show, having drinks, or eating a meal, but in many cases it also involved dancing. Frequently, dancing occurred at hotel ballrooms or dancehalls, which were fixtures in big cities and small towns alike.

At these dancing venues, live bands typically played and people danced in couples, often to the sounds of jazz or swing music. World War II had a significant impact on the spread of swing music (and the “jitterbuggers” who danced to it) from the U.S. to Great Britain, where U.S. soldiers danced at nightclubs when they were off duty.

One of the most significant ripple effects of 1940s-era dance culture was that it led to the racial integration of music. As jazz and swing music proved popular among black, white, and Latin performers and listeners, popular bands eventually integrated. Starting in the 1930s, dance clubs sloughed off their segregation policies to allow people of all races to dance together.

About Khyentse James

Raised by her grandparents, Khyentse James developed a passion for 1940s-style dancing in her childhood. Today, as organizer of the famous Boulder, Colorado, 1940s WWII Era Ball, James shares her love with 2,500 attendees during a night of costumes, music, and dancing.