Dance Hall Days: Intimacy and Leisure Among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States

Dance Hall Days: Intimacy and Leisure Among Working-Class Immigrants in the United States

by Randy McBee
     
 

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The rise of commercialized leisure coincided with the arrival of millions of immigrants to America's cities. Conflict was inevitable as older generations attempted to preserve their traditions, values, and ethnic identities, while the young sought out the cheap amusements and sexual freedom which the urban landscape offered. At immigrant picnics, social clubs, and

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Overview

The rise of commercialized leisure coincided with the arrival of millions of immigrants to America's cities. Conflict was inevitable as older generations attempted to preserve their traditions, values, and ethnic identities, while the young sought out the cheap amusements and sexual freedom which the urban landscape offered. At immigrant picnics, social clubs, and urban dance halls, Randy McBee discovers distinct and highly contested gender lines, proving that the battle between the ages was also one between the sexes.

Free from their parents and their strict rules governing sexual conduct, working women took advantage of their time in dance halls to challenge conventional gender norms. They routinely passed certain men over for dances, refused escorts home, and embraced the sensual and physical side of dance to further accentuate their superior skills and ability on the dance floor. Most men felt threatened by women's displays of empowerment and took steps to thwart the changes taking place. Accustomed to street corners, poolrooms, saloons, and other all-male get-togethers, working men tried to transform the dance hall into something that resembled these familiar hangouts.

McBee also finds that men frequently abandoned the commercial dance hall for their own clubs, set up in the basements of tenement flats. In these hangouts, working men established rules governing intimacy and leisure that allowed them to regulate the behavior of the women who attended club events. The collective manner in which they behaved not only affected the organization of commercial leisure but also men and women's struggles with and against one another to define the meaning of leisure, sexuality, intimacy, and even masculinity.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
McBee (history, Texas Tech U.) argues that picnics, social clubs, and dance halls provided opportunities for young immigrant women to contest gender lines, often taking advantage of time away from their parents to challenge conventional gender norms. He depicts how they might refuse escorts home and even accentuate the sensual and physical side of dance, often threatening the men in the process. The author goes on to show the men's response, often to abandon the dance halls and open up their own social clubs in which they reincorporated parents in order to ensure their female companions would behave "properly." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"In the diffuse and fragmented world of gender history it is rare to find a work of true originality anymore. Randy McBee's Dance Hall Days is, however, such a book. In this vigorously researched study of early twentieth-century heterosocial relations, McBee overturns the long-held consensus that dance hall and new amusement entrepreneurs manipulated the rise of mass culture and hence loosened social relations in the process. McBee's achievement is to see men and women as active agents in the creation of their own heterosocial leisure world, not only in dance halls and amusement parks but in picnics, religious festivals, and even men's social clubs. This often stunning and always surprising book combines traditional scholarly rigor with postmodern wit and savvy. It should become indispensable reading for historians and sociologists of American gender relations for many years to come. A remarkable achievement."

-Kevin White,Portsmouth University

"This is a very important book that draws together astute analyses of youth, gender, morals, amusements and ethnic history. After you read it, you will never look into faces on the old dance photos in the same way."

-American Historical Review

"Randy D. McBee's monograph opens up a new space for thinking about immigrant life, ethnicity, and youth in the context of social history."

-The Journal of American History

"Brimming with human detail and adventuresome argument, Dance Hall Days is a major contribution to both labor history and immigration studies. McBee never loses sight of the fact that workers' lives were about romance, intense same-sex friendships, dance, loneliness, longing, and marriage just as surely as they were about jobs. In its intimate portrayal of immigrants' lives, Dance Hall Days demonstrates the critical role of class, along with generation, gender, and community, in shaping the particular ways in which Americans encountered mass culture."

-David Roediger,University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"This book adds important new insights to a growing literature that explores day-to-day immigrant life through the lens of popular amusments."

-Journal of American Ethnic History

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780814761199
Publisher:
New York University Press
Publication date:
11/01/2000
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
336
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"Brimming with human detail and adventuresome argument, Dance Hall Days is a major contribution to both labor history and immigration studies. McBee never loses sight of the fact that workers' lives were about romance, intense same-sex friendships, dance, loneliness, longing, and marriage just as surely as they were about jobs. In its intimate portrayal of immigrants' lives, Dance Hall Days demonstrates the critical role of class, along with generation, gender, and community, in shaping the particular ways in which Americans encountered mass culture."

-David Roediger,University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

"In the diffuse and fragmented world of gender history it is rare to find a work of true originality anymore. Randy McBee's Dance Hall Days is, however, such a book. In this vigorously researched study of early twentieth-century heterosocial relations, McBee overturns the long-held consensus that dance hall and new amusement entrepreneurs manipulated the rise of mass culture and hence loosened social relations in the process. McBee's achievement is to see men and women as active agents in the creation of their own heterosocial leisure world, not only in dance halls and amusement parks but in picnics, religious festivals, and even men's social clubs. This often stunning and always surprising book combines traditional scholarly rigor with postmodern wit and savvy. It should become indispensable reading for historians and sociologists of American gender relations for many years to come. A remarkable achievement."

—, -Kevin White,Portsmouth University

"Randy D. McBee's monograph opens up a new space for thinking about immigrant life, ethnicity, and youth in the context of social history."

-The Journal of American History,

"This is a very important book that draws together astute analyses of youth, gender, morals, amusements and ethnic history. After you read it, you will never look into faces on the old dance photos in the same way."

-American Historical Review,

"This book adds important new insights to a growing literature that explores day-to-day immigrant life through the lens of popular amusments."

-Journal of American Ethnic History

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