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The Roaring Twenties: How dance played a role in women’s liberation

By Ester De Greef, Institute for cultural Diplomacy.

the roaring twenties 1The 1920s were important years for women throughout the world. A lot of things changed in terms of fashion, music and dance – all of which eventually played a role in women’s liberation. Women’s clothes became more casual; skirts and dresses became shorter; short-bob haircuts were in fashion as well as cosmetics and public smoking.

The 1920s were also important for politics and the labor market. Women’s labor force rose from 23.6% to 27% between 1920 and 1930. Positions in textiles, domestic services and agriculture were increasingly filled by women The first generation of women also graduated in 1920, in careers such as nursing, education and social work. Around the same time, women were granted the right to vote in many countries. To see the complete list, please click here. In 1925,  Bruce Bliven wrote in The New Republic, “Women have highly resolved that they are just as good as men…”

But the roaring twenties are most known for the obsession of dance. It was a way of escape for many following the horrors of the First World War (1914-1918). Through dance, women were able to express their emotions and optimism. The wild women of the twenties were known as flappers, and were trendsetters in their time when it came to fashion and dancing. They hardly cared about etiquettes.

These “wild” women introduced wild dances like the Charleston, The Grizzly Bear and The Shimmy. Women started to dance more with their upper body. The typical dance of the 1920s was not solely about dance and fashion; it was  more about freedom and experiencing a sense of peace. This wasn’t only expressed in the way women dressed and danced; between 1914 and 1929, divorce rate in America doubled, and premarital sex was even rising faster.

The optimism of the 1920s came to an end on Black Monday in September when the American Stock Market collapsed. During the great depression, the mood of the American people completely changed.

Although the roaring twenties contributed significantly to women’s liberation,  this doesn’t mean it was all sunshine and roses. Women’s rights grew tremendously, however in many cases they were still not equal to men. Even today, gender inequality and bias persists in many advanced industrial societies, making it one of the world’s greatest global challenges.


  • Suite 101, May 2013, available here
  • The Guardian, May 2013, available here
  • eHow, May 2013, available here
  • Wikipedia, May 2013, available here
  • 1920’s Dancing, May 2013, available here






Center for Cultural Diplomacy Studies Publication
Institute for Cultural Diplomacy


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We are the Blogsphere Team of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. We are the interactive part of the web resources of ICD. We spread culture and mutual understanding among cultures through blogs.


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The London Art as Cultural Diplomacy ConferenceAugust 21st, 2013


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