Date of Award

12-14-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

History

First Advisor

Michelle Brattain

Second Advisor

Jeffrey Young

Third Advisor

Marni Davis

Abstract

This dissertation argues that in the years 1950 to 1984, ballroom dance studios in Atlanta were spaces where participants forged identities. Atlanta is used as a case study to interrogate how ballroom dance studios functioned, and to demonstrate the lived experience of those who worked in the industry. Mirroring the rise of consumerism, and conspicuous consumption, in post-World War II United States, ballroom dance studios in the fifties through eighties saw themselves as, first and foremost, business entities. Ballroom studios were spaces where wealthy clients could reinforce their elite status in society, by spending large amounts of money on dancing, and receiving personal attention from qualified instructors, and personnel. Simultaneously, clients and teachers forged close personal bonds which created a welcoming environment that encouraged clients to spend more time, and money, in the studio. The familyness that developed within studios created a client/teacher relationship that was intimate, but based on a monetary exchange. The familial relationships cultivated within the studio setting were not limited to teacher-client relationships, but also grew between teachers within the studio. Using the words of teachers in Atlanta who taught in the period under investigation, this project shines a spotlight on a group of individuals who have been a presence in the economy, and society, but have remained under-examined by academics. Contrary to the image of men being dominant on the dance floor, the experience of Atlanta teachers shows that women were powerful actors in the business, and that women ironically taught men how to be masculine on the dance floor. “Ballroom in the Big Peach” also reveals that, despite the dominance of white clients in ballroom studios in the twenty-first century, there were black ballroom studios in Atlanta in the 1950s and 1960s, and they appear to have functioned much like white studios, catering to black elites. They were also spaces where black women asserted their expertise and business knowledge. By 1984 the ballroom dance industry had become dominated by competitive dancing, leading to a renaming of the national body, and a change in focus of most studios to competitive dancing, rather than social dancing.

Available for download on Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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