Story: Dancing

Since European settlers first arrived in New Zealand, dancing has been a popular way of socialising, exercising and meeting potential partners. In the 2000s people continued to enjoy dance clubs, classes, school discos and balls, nightclubs, parties and raves.

Story by Megan Cook
Main image: The dance of the shearers, 1885

Story summary

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19th century

European settlers enjoyed dancing as a way of keeping warm, socialising and meeting potential partners. They danced on ships on the way to New Zealand, and continued to do so once they arrived, in settings ranging from shearing sheds to formal balls. Most early settlers were male, so women were sought-after as dance partners, and men sometimes danced together. Dance classes were advertised from the 1850s, but people also learnt to dance from family and friends.

Hotels held dances, but in the 1860s these began to be suppressed. They were banned in 1881. Dances and balls were run by local groups, businesses, military regiments and individuals. They were held as part of holidays, sports events, meetings and openings of woolsheds.

Jazz to rock ’n’ roll

In the 1920s people began dancing to jazz. New dance venues – cabarets and nightclubs – opened, and couples danced close together in new styles like the foxtrot and quickstep. Some people disapproved of these changes.

People continued to do old-time dancing at halls and balls, especially in rural areas. Public dances were common.

Rock ’n’ roll dancing began in the mid-1950s. Dancers also joined clubs. These included clubs for national dance styles such as Scottish country dancing. Folk dance was taught in schools.

1960s to 2000s

In 1961 the twist arrived in New Zealand. It was danced individually, not in pairs. Dancing became more individual, with fewer prescribed moves. People learnt dance styles from television shows and movies, and later from music videos.

In the 1960s nightclubs started to replace dance halls.

In the 2000s there were clubs for national dances, rock ’n’ roll, ballroom, line, round and square dancing. A 2007–8 survey found that dancing was New Zealand’s eighth-most popular physical activity.

How to cite this page:

Megan Cook, 'Dancing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

Story by Megan Cook, published 5 September 2013