03 February 2010




I was mid-teens when the latter photograph was taken. I’d been mad about ballroom dancing for a couple of years but before that I was into ice skating, so the footwork and change of rhythm was difficult to overcome. It was a bit like having two left feet. Of course, those were the days when dancing was elegant and romantic; now when I watch couples dance I wonder where they get their energy. Those modern contortions were never allowed in my day.

Dance teachers, man and wife, well known ballroom champions, had opened a school in my area. I just had to go and see what it was like. I was very nervous when I arrived but they put me at ease by giving me some private tuition before everyone else arrived. However, the kindness swiftly turned to stern chastisements when instructions were not carried out to the letter. Everyone suffered the same fate until they learned to get it right.

MEDALS 1950-51

Eventually I got it right enough to enter the medals game. Starting with the bronze, I swiftly moved on to silver, and then gold. It wasn’t hard … all I had to do was dance.


My partner Dennis was much older than me but we danced together very well and practised often. He was a bit of a comedian, always made me laugh when I shouldn’t. We could be dancing a serious waltz and he would suddenly whip out his false teeth and imitate Winston Churchill. As you can imagine, this got us in awful trouble with the teacher.


Competition dancing requires a ball gown and my mother had me measured in no time. The result can be seen above. Considering everything was rationed, obtaining such a dress was a luxury; I often wonder how she managed to get such a lovely thing with so few available coupons. But that, as they say, is another story. The dress was lovely. I felt quite swanky when it swirled luxuriantly on bare legs.


The first heat was held at a local ballroom. A very swish gold and red place that made me hold my breath when I entered, and it was there I made my debut in the glamorous dancing world.

Although my mother acted like mother of the bride contestant, fussing here and tweaking there, a team of helpers organised by the school was there to see to the appearance of entrants. My short hair was washed and glossed and then coated in goose-grease which guaranteed it would stay in place. It did. In fact it stayed in place for several days, even shampoo wouldn’t shift it. It was still there when the photograph was taken at a local studio … a special sitting organised by Mom.

The actual dance performances were enjoyable, but the amount of palms being crossed was unbelievable. Dennis and I knew we wouldn’t win before we started, and … before we started, we KNEW who would. Nevertheless we had a great time and mother was overjoyed to receive compliments on the ball gown. You’d think she made it herself, the way she carried on. But that, as they say, is another story.


At eighteen I was persuaded by the teacher to add to my medal collection, training for the first gold bar to attach to the gold medal. It was hard work and pleasurable but I never got to take the exam. That was the year I had a serious burns accident which put me out of action for several months. Skin grafts needed to heal and more attention given to learning to walk than dancing.


Times were still hard, and rationing was still an issue when it came to buying clothes. That was when I remembered the lovely ball gown packed away in a suitcase. I would sell it and save the coupons. After consultation with Mom’s friend, who owned a small dress shop, she agreed to try and sell it for me. It looked lovely in the shop window with the skirt fanned out to show off the black lace.

Wedding arrangements were made and carried out and I forgot about the dress, probably assuming it was still for sale. Until a friend reminded me! ‘Whatever happened to that white dress?’ she asked. I resolved to make urgent enquiries.

It transpired that Mom had withdrawn it from sale. Rescued, was the word she used … and the shopkeeper thought I knew. No dress, no cash, no apology or excuse. Years later I saw a photograph of Mom taken at an evening do wearing MY dress, altered to fit, minus the black lace.

I don’t dance now, Nellie the Elephant saw to that. Hubs and I attended a dinner dance, with lots of comic dances thrown in. Jigging about with Nellie was fine until the music speeded up, faster and faster it went, faster and faster I danced, until I got SUCH a pain in chest I thought I was having a heart attack. It took over an hour to recover! So, when anyone asks … I don’t dance!


subby said...

Well I'll be! Kudos to you Valerie! Two things I've never learned( and Mum watches that ballroom dancing show when it's on )...

Brian Miller said...

oh but you do just with your words now. interesting new things to learn...a burn incident did i miss that somewhere?

Kath said...

What a lovely post Val and what gorgeous photos. I particularly liked the ball gown photo, what a beauty you were!

Valerie said...

Subby, Oooo I could use a bit of kudos... grins. Can you dance at all?

Brian, you're good for my ego. Burns haven't been written about. I always feel people don't want to hear about 'the operation' ... although looking back there were some funny parts I could tell.

Kath, thank you. The old photographs came in handy ... smiles. How bad are your eyes... grins.

Bernie said...

Val, what beautiful pictures. I did skate and dance although never in competition....I love learning about you in your earlier years and it sounds like your mom really tried to give you everything she could.....truly loved this post my friend.......:-) Hugs

cheshire wife said...

When I first looked at your photos I thought that they were of my father's sister. The resemblence is uncanny.

Sorry to read about your accident but hopefully something good came out of it, and you got married.

An English Shepherd said...

Great pictures you look lovely :-)


Valerie said...

Bernie, I'm afraid Mom did it all for herself but that, as they say, is another story. It's funny how people's view of photographs vary, but I'm truly grateful that they do....smiles and hugs

CW, they say everyone has a double. I may well write about the accident but only if I can find an amusing way to do it. BTW, the second marriage is the one that worked!

Akelamalu said...

You could ice skate???? WOW!

I couldn't even stand up on ice skates!

I used to do tapdancing and got medals for it.

Thanks for sharing your memories Valerie. :)

Valerie said...

Akelamalu, it's my turn to say Wow! Tapdancing medals, how wonderful and how clever. Wish we could hear about it!

Kippers Dickie said...

A lovely and very interesting post Valerie. I'm glad you looked out those old photos.
I too learnt to dance in my early days in Brum. I went to Victor Silvesters and got up to silver in Latin and Ballroom. I was at university at the time so was too busy to "Go for Gold" as they say.

Valerie said...

Bernard, thanks. We have a lot in common, it seems.

√ Abraham Lincoln said...

A gay married couple (married straight couple who were gay but I didn't know it) I lived with one summer in Arizona, used to go once a week to Arthur Murray dance studio in Tucson, Arizona.

I watched old ladies dance with handsome young 6-pack bucks and old men dance with Dolly Parton-chicks in lavish evening gowns. And the music was great too.

I never could dance but some people said I could when I got to Japan and began drinking sake.

Memories are wonderful things. You can actually relive the past without going through it again.

Grumpy Old Ken said...

Very strange, the dancing world. Who needs it! You looked the part though!

Blogaire said...

I have a good friend who won many jiving trophies. She never danced with her husband but always with his mate Dennis. I just envy people who can dance! Me, I have two left feet - but I always blame my size eleven's. When working in London once I went looking for shoes and when I couldn't find my size my so-called best friend asked the shop assistant if she had "boats" that would fit me. Rotter!
The Dancing On Ice skaters really amaze me. I mean HOW do they do it?
Hey, I haven't tried dancing on ice - maybe my big feet could come in handy yet.