When the North Learned to Dance

On the basis of the history of long-established dance schools in northern Germany, the documentary "When the North Learned to Dance" tells the story of how shortly before World War II, the innocuous, private diversion of ballroom dancing became a political, even a subversive factor, and highlights dance as a mirror of prevailing political and social relations up until the present day. The film begins in the 1930s, when Swing and Rumba were banned as "un-German," before accompanying dancers across the ensuing decades: the 1950s and 60s, when dance students addressed smartly attired young woman with a polite "May I have the next dance?" – while at the same time, a rebellious youth was discovering rock 'n roll.

Covered as well is the "Lipsi," the "cool" dance from GDR times, introduced to the dance floor in 1958 as an alternative to Western rock 'n roll. Combining two waltz steps with a 6/4 beat, the dance was brought to the people accompanied by much propaganda. Of course, couples were allowed to dance in the modern fashion, either together or apart, but always "respectably!" And as far away as possible from the tasteless and uninhibited contortions of overseas dance imports. At the parliament of the Free German Youth held in Rostock, it was decreed from 'above' that all functionaries should master the "Lipsi." The 1970s and 80s were dominated by Disco Fox, and today, young people have discovered a new enthusiasm for ballroom dancing and codes of etiquette, now that primetime dance broadcasts have infused the somewhat antiquated image of the dance school with a new glamour.

Serving as a unifying thread for this historical survey is a north German dance school that has been run by the same family for generations. The dancing ban of 1943, the revival of the "Boogie-Woogie" swing dance through the soldiers of the English occupying authorities after the war, dance instruction paid for with briquettes. Then later on, Disco and Macarena – the members of the family have something to say about all of it. Enriched by an abundance of archival material, the music and the social forms of the past come alive again, illustrating the norms and values of the respective historical era. Additional protagonists from the north German milieu of the dance school also contribute personal experiences and recollections: an elderly couple who met during a dance course explain how at the time, dance instruction represented one of the few opportunities for contact with the opposite sex; young people engaged in preparations for a debutante ball share their attitudes toward the conventions and rules of comportment. A young woman shares her enthusiasm for the Lindy Hop, celebrating a return to the days of swing dance in petticoat and bangs.

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