Let’s face it, we all love a good dance. Chatting with some fellow audience members at the Gloria Estefan musical ON YOUR FEET! recently, they wondered why people were discouraged from dancing in West End theatres.
Having had some theatre management experience, I mentioned that as theatres need to have a license to operate, those licenses do not include dancing. Seems a bit crazy to some folks I am sure, but let me tell you a little more about why this is so.
Firstly, most of London’s theatre stock was built over a hundred years ago. Theatre then was a place where you sat and watched a performance.
Nowadays we are all used to going to a purpose-built arena or big music venue to see bands play and at those events it is acceptable- even obligatory- to stand, although it may block the views of others around you if they are sitting, or indeed have difficulty standing. Dancing comes quite naturally when you are on your feet.
Musical theatre is of course an incredibly popular artform. As the number of “jukebox” musicals have grown, audiences are responding to music which they first heard in a non-theatre setting and so it feels right to get up and have a dance. However, theatres were not built for this kind of use and therefore dancing is not licensed by the local authority, mostly Westminster for the West End. So when you see the staff holding up signs that say please, no dancing – or the management asking people to sit down, it’s because the theatre itself wasn’t built for this. It is simply not known whether the buildings could withstand this kind of treatment on a regular basis.
I remember one occasion back in the 1980s when we had a Sunday pop concert at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. To satisfy the licensing requirements for health and safety we had to fill the dress circle with passersby, friends and colleagues and get them to jump up and down! We got the license, but for one night only.
At the Victoria Palace, on another long-running show called BUDDY which a lot of you will remember, the signs were out on each level at every show, and generally people were very understanding. And on the outgoing for the show, I did have an occasional twirl with one of the many elated lady audience members on their way out.
So next time you feel the urge to leap up and dance in a West End theatre, please don’t think the theatre staff are deliberately being spoilsports. They are just doing their jobs, trying to keep you as safe as possible. So, dancing in theatres, please, no. Dancing in the streets…….hell, yes!