Kōrero: Dancing

Whārangi 3. Dancing, 1960s to 2000s

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Dancing in the 2000s

In 2007–8 a national survey found dancing was the eighth-most popular physical activity for New Zealanders. Like thousands before them, almost 550,000 adult New Zealanders loved to dance, going to clubs, classes, tea dances, school discos and balls, nightclubs, parties and raves. The dances done included most of those New Zealanders had enjoyed since 1840, but many people were doing something different. Dancing without touching those around you, with no set steps or movements, had become standard in nightclubs and at most parties.

An end to couple dancing?

In 1961 the twist arrived in New Zealand. It was remarkably easy to learn – dancers acted as if they were towelling their bottom and putting out a cigarette with each foot – and done entirely individually. It was the beginning of the end of needing to ask or be asked to dance, and with that formality went much of the dance etiquette that remained.

From this point dancing became increasingly loose and self-directed. It was a shift that did not suit everyone, and teenage boys in particular became notorious for their reluctance to dance. There was help available – dance moves could be learnt from television. New Zealand shows like C’mon (1960s) and Happen Inn (1970s) featured local performers and dancers; in the 1980s music videos became a standard marketing tool for record companies and provided a guide to overseas dance moves. Movies had long served this purpose, and in 1977 Saturday night fever (the disco equivalent of Rock around the clock in 1956) proved a useful guide and left an enduring dance-floor legacy.

Nightclubs and dance halls

In the 1960s nightclubs began to replace dance halls, and by the 1980s the shift was complete. Although many clubs had live bands, recorded music was often used and eventually took over, with the DJ replacing the band as the star of the show. Physical contact between dancers was a feature of some dances – the bump, a disco style, included glancing body contact, usually with the hips, bottom or shoulders, between partners – but it was taken for granted that people would dance together without touching.

Daring to dance

Bopping and breaking arrived in Wellington in 1982, brought by a group of New Zealand Samoan cousins. One of them, Petelo, had just arrived back from Samoa, where he had learnt a few moves. He taught the others, and then they were out on the street, ‘wiggling like a rubber snake, him and his cousins jerking about like puppets’. At first it was hard – Petelo remembers ‘daring each other to go first … you go … no, you go first … looking silly’.1

From the 1970s women-only dances (held by women’s liberation groups) and lesbian and gay dances became a feature of city life. Although women’s dances continued the tradition of using halls, lesbians and gay men opened nightclubs as well as holding dances and large dance parties.

Street dancing

In the early 1980s breaking (acrobatic floor-based moves) and bopping (robotic dance moves), both forms of street dance, arrived in New Zealand from the United States via Samoa. By late 1983 many North Island towns had one or more groups, whose members were almost always Pacific Island or Māori. Breaking and bopping were often performed on the street or in city squares or malls, with teams competing with each other. In the 2000s breaking was embedded in the New Zealand dance scene, with classes offered at dance studios, local competitions and New Zealand teams winning international competitions.

Starry dancing

When All Black Norm Hewitt and partner Carol-Ann Hickmore won the first series of Dancing with the stars in 2005, Hewitt commented, ‘Through dance I was able to break a stereotype … since the show … I have had men say to me, “Thanks for making it okay for us to dance”’.2

Clubs and classes

In the 1990s and 2000s there were clubs for national dances, rock ’n’ roll, ballroom, line, round and square dancing. Classes ran in all these and more. Couple dancing came back into fashion. Classes for ballroom, jive and Latin styles were popular, dances were held in halls around the country, and on television Dancing with the stars partnered non-dancing celebrities with professional dancers in knock-out rounds of modern ballroom dance.

Children learned hip hop, tap and ballet. With the introduction of discos at primary-school level, folk dance lost its place as the dominant school dance experience.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Mark Scott, Street-action Aotearoa. Auckland: Arohanui Publications, 1985, pp. 54–55. Back
  2. Norm Hewitt, ‘Nine to Noon’, National Radio, 23 December 2005. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Megan Cook, 'Dancing - Dancing, 1960s to 2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/dancing/page-3 (accessed 30 September 2022)

He kōrero nā Megan Cook, i tāngia i te 5 Sep 2013