This book chapter was published in Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader, a collection of essays on dance culture edited by Julie Malnig for University of Illinois press. Taking as its starting point the 50th anniversary of Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, in 2005, my chapter explores the social and economic conditions of the 1950s and 60s by focussing on the numerous popular music dance crazes of the time.
Popular music histories have given little attention to the dances of the 50s and 60s era, often viewing them as insignificant and divorced from the dominant historical narratives, or else simply as record industry-driven attempts to exploit the lucrative teenage market that emerged around this time. My paper attempts to reposition these crazes by demonstrating that the move away from couple-orientated dance cultures, which had dominated the earlier part of the century, towards a more communal dance experience that existing in the 1950s and 60s, mirrored and informed the complex ideologies and power struggles of the time. As such I explore notions of identity, history and heritage, and cultural practice, three themes at the heart of the intellectual mission of the BCMCR.
Analysis of cultural practices amongst fans as a lens through which to study the industrial and political economic conditions of media production is an approach that several of my BCMCR colleagues have taken in recent years. In particular, the activities of fans using internet and social media technologies has informed a number of diverse studies including the provision of specialist music services by the BBC, the changing nature of journalism, and the economic activity of musicians.
Challenging and analysing the construction of popular music histories is a theme that runs through much of my work. My book, Studying Popular Music Culture, now in its 2nd edition, attempts to give an economic and social perspective to many of the dominant discourses of popular music history, and my emerging body of research with Dr Paul Long on the mediation of televised histories explores the often problematic manner in which media organisations present popular music’s past.