“Among working women, leisure came to be seen as a separate sphere of life to be consciously protected” (40). Kathy Peiss’s book, Cheap Amusements, was about women’s roles at the turn of the century in New York. Her main idea was that working women at the turn of the century were trying to create more leisure time and autonomy despite the stereotypes that came with some of this newfound independence. The “Old World” role of women was changing because of economic pressures from industrialization. Commercialization of amusement helped create more opportunities for women’s leisure. Some of the key themes in her book are autonomy, oppression and dependence, and sexuality.
Women’s individuality became to be widely expressed with dancing. Peiss states, “From an anthropological perspective, dance is a form of structured, expressive movement that articulates and conveys cultural information to its participants, helping them to make sense of their world” (89). Peiss is showing that women could express their feelings, sexuality, and individuality with their dance moves. Peiss said, “More than other dances, the tough dance allowed young women to use their bodies to express sexual desire and individual pleasure in movement that would have been unacceptable in any other public arena” (102). Peiss talks about how these different dances, “pivoting”, “spieling”, and “tough dancing” allowed for women to express themselves in a sexual way. These dances allowed for twirling, spinning, and close body contact, which showed their sexuality.
The commercialization of leisure and “cheap amusements” led to businessmen including alcohol in these activities. “Quenching the thirst of dancers became a profitable business…” (95). Many dance halls were located around or over saloons. Peiss states, “With the hall owner’s profits pegged to alcohol consumption, dancing and drinking went hand in hand, as typical dance programs suggest” (95). Peiss talks about how the