In early 1978, the Observer Magazine (‘Rituals of Love. Part 1: Courtship’) sent their correspondent along to consider the ‘tribal dances of urban man’ as if she was an anthropologist on Mars.
First up was the Feathers charity ball at the Lyceum, the ‘do of the year for these folk of first-class stock’. Girls wore ‘flowing long dresses, boys mainly velvet evening suits’. But the ‘necking couples, passionately kissing at the tables or even on the dance floor itself’ were beside the point as Niall, 16, confirmed: ‘The individual boy or girl friend is not really important. It’s essential to socialise if you’re going to get on in life, build up contacts. And this is undoubtedly the right place to be seen.’
In stark contrast, and if you could be seen at all, was the punk rock disco, which was ‘dark, dirty, oppressive… Subtlety was out. Rawness ruled, in music, dress and behaviour’. So it was a surprise that even here ‘the social conventions of mating were so rigid’. But it was when the band came on that our writer was truly baffled: ‘The noise was worse than deafening. No one danced… suddenly they would leap into the air, hurl themselves at the nearest person and fall to the floor with a punch here or a friendly strangle there.’ Aww, how sweet, especially after they’ve ‘spat into the drink of someone they wished to know and flicked lighted cigarettes at them’.
Our writer was just as unflinching in her assessment of the young farmers’ club dance in Berkshire. ‘Apart from the few young farmers’ parents and a sprinkling of couples, they were a lifeless lot, scrubbed for the occasion, wearing their Sunday best, and embarrassingly shy.’ Clive, 18, said: ‘Even if I saw a girl I liked I couldn’t go over and start a conversation or ask her to dance. Too embarrassing.’ The wrong kind of cattle market then.