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"Does tea dance? Can it dance?" The history of the tea dance

"Does tea dance? Can it dance?" The history of the tea dance

Dancing and tea might not seem like perfect partners today, but they have a long and colourful history. Long before Strictly sashayed onto our screens, Victorian-era Brits were most likely to enjoy the Cha-cha-cha or the Charleston at a tea dance.

As the name suggests, they combined music, dancing and afternoon tea. Sounds like the perfect way to spend a few hours, don't you think? You can still attend tea dances today, although they reached peak popularity at the turn of the 19th century.

How did tea dances start?

By the late 1800s through to the pre-World War I period, afternoon tea became a highlight of society life. With dance crazes sweeping the nation, hosts began adding more than just tea to the menu.

From then on, tea dances became increasingly popular as places for young singletons to meet. They weren't a hit with everyone, though. An American magazine ridiculed the name in 1853, asking: "Does tea dance? Can it dance?"

The rise and fall of the Tango Tea

The sultry Argentine Tango arrived in London from Buenos Aires in the 1910s, causing something of a stir across Britain. Savvy hotel and restaurant owners took notice and shuffled tables around to make additional room for dancing. The Tango Tea was born!


Interior of the Palm Court, where the Waldorf Hotel held tea dances until 1939

One of the most popular Tango Teas was held at the Waldorf Hotel. The first of many tangos was performed in their Palm Court in 1913, scandalising Edwardian society. Tango Teas became a regular fixture at the London hotel until 1939, when a stray bomb shattered the roof of the Palm Court.

Tea dances in modern Britain

Tea dances faded in popularity after World War II. It wasn't until 1983 they saw a resurgence in popularity, when the Waldorf held their first Tango Tea since the roof of the Palm Court was destroyed.

Although not quite as trendy as in their heyday, tea dances are still held across the UK today. There have been several World Record attempts in the 21st century, including the current World Record holder. A whopping 4000 dancers descended on George Square, Glasgow for the world's largest tea dance in 2010! The record remains unchallenged.

Fancy enjoying dancing over a cuppa at home? Perhaps you know a dance lover who would? The new Picturemaps Let's Dance mug features some of the most popular partner dances, from the Salsa and the Samba to the Paso Doble and more. They make the perfect gift for anyone who loves dancing, even if you have two left feet.

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