Guest blog: Emily Malcolm talks about how young people are discovering the importance of social dance during the First World War

“The piano is the first essential! And dancing then was the natural sequence! No matter how tired the girls might have been, from their work with the machine tools, in the handling of high explosives, with all the precautions involved, or in putting the finishing touches to a heavy shell, dancing was always the first form of recreation.” Daily Telegraph. Quote in “Fighting on the Home Front, Kate Adie

Wiltshire Youth Arts Partnership (WYAP) started working on Dancing Back to 1914 around two years ago but I didn’t come on board as Project Coordinator until January of this year. The project has been given a £34,600 Heritage Lottery Fund grant as well as receiving local support from organisations such as Green Square.

Dancing Back to 1914 is a project aimed at 12 to 19 year olds and uses dance to teach participants about Wiltshire during the First World War. Young people will look at local life from 1910 to 1920 and learn how things changed and what life would have been like for a young person during that period. The project will see young people visit the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre as well as local museums and heritage sites linked to World War One. There will also be public performances around the county. Classes are taking place in Tidworth, Malmesbury, Salisbury and Trowbridge.

Dancing 1914_low res2

I have been dancing Ballroom and Latin since I was three years old and enjoy any opportunity to help others discover how much fun social dance can be so this project really appealed to me. I have really enjoyed learning about dance during the war and how much a part of life it was, whether people went to dances or watched dance – it was a big part of everyone’s life.

People danced during the war as a way of staying positive. They also danced to celebrate the end of the war. They danced with friends; they danced to meet new people. And dance is a great way of giving people an insight into life during this period. Through finding out more about dance during this time, you can learn about how people socialised, you can learn how life was changing – girls went out more, unchaperoned and with money.

For the young people taking part in this dance project, dance is creating an understanding of and bringing this period to life. Participants are learning about all that went with dancing during the war period such as fashion, hair and make-up as well as learning about staging a performance. Its great being able to appeal to young people who might not want to dance but want to be involved in putting performances on, whether that’s costume, hair and makeup or directing and producing.

Dancing 1914_low res1

Our regular classes only started two weeks ago and participants are already getting stuck in with learning about the dances from the war period. They are looking at the Foxtrot, the Grizzly Bear, the Turkeytrot and the Camel Walk. Who knew so many dances were named after animals and used the movement of animals? The next step is to start looking at performance opportunities for each of the groups. Our Tidworth group is already putting together a piece for the Tidworth Town Festival this July.

Dancing 2014 _low res

For me, this project is using dance as the medium to encourage young people to learn about and to tell the story of life in Wiltshire communities during the First World War. Social dance was as important then as it is now.

If anyone is interested in finding out more about the project, would like to attend one of the weekly classes or has other ideas about how they can get involved they can email me

Emily Malcolm, project coordinator

2 thoughts on “Guest blog: Emily Malcolm talks about how young people are discovering the importance of social dance during the First World War

  1. Pingback: Dancing Back In Time | The Arts in Wiltshire

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