Designed for Dancing
How Midcentury Records Taught America to Dance
- Finalist for the Oscar G. Brockett Book Prize for Dance Research, Dance Studies Association, 2022
- Finalist for the Prize for Excellence in Historical Recorded Sound Research, the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, 2022
552 pp., 8 x 10 in, 292 color photos
- Published: October 19, 2021
- Publisher: The MIT Press
When Americans mamboed in the kitchen, waltzed in the living room, polkaed in the pavilion, and tangoed at the club; with glorious, full-color record cover art.
In midcentury America, eager dancers mamboed in the kitchen, waltzed in the living room, Watusied at the nightclub, and polkaed in the pavilion, instructed (and inspired) by dance records. Glorious, full-color record covers encouraged them: Let's Cha Cha Cha, Dance and Stay Young, Dancing in the Street!, Limbo Party, High Society Twist. In Designed for Dancing, vinyl record aficionados and collectors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder examine dance records of the 1950s and 1960s as expressions of midcentury culture, identity, fantasy, and desire.
Borgerson and Schroeder begin with the record covers—memorable and striking, but largely designed and created by now-forgotten photographers, scenographers, and illustrators—which were central to the way records were conceived, produced, and promoted. Dancing allowed people to sample aspirational lifestyles, whether at the Plaza or in a smoky Parisian café, and to affirm ancestral identities with Irish, Polish, or Greek folk dancing. Dance records featuring ethnic music of variable authenticity and appropriateness invited consumers to dance in the footsteps of the Other with “hot” Latin music, Afro-Caribbean rhythms, and Hawaiian hulas. Bought at a local supermarket, department store, or record shop, and listened to in the privacy of home, midcentury dance records offered instruction in how to dance, how to dress, how to date, and how to discover cool new music—lessons for harmonizing with the rest of postwar America.
“From hula to rock and roll, belly dance to square dance, tango to Polish polka, Borgerson and Schroeder provide a treasure trove of information, research, and warm memories!”
Anthony Shay, Professor of Dance and Cultural Studies, Pomona College
“Dance music LPs of all styles and nationalities were prized possessions in my family's home, and this cover collection reminds me of the infectious sounds streaming from the record console and the joyful music that filled the air with happiness.”
Steven Heller, cochair MFA Design, School of Visual Arts, New York
“Midcentury Americans sure did love that living-room shimmy. This beautifully illustrated compendium reveals the long-forgotten cosmopolitanism and playfulness of Cold War America. It also makes you want to dance. Who could ask for more?”
Fred Turner, author of The Democratic Surround: Multimedia and American Liberalism from World War II to the Psychedelic Sixties
An intriguing look at social dance culture through a material lens. For scholars and aficionados of mid-20th-century popular culture.
"A fascinating yet approachable read and a gorgeous feast for the eyes.”
“The authors do important and entertaining work informing readers how the convergence of dancing and music—and album cover art—impacted American identity at midcentury.”
Jerry Jazz Musician