I was mid-teens when the above 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.
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.
THE LOCAL AMATEUR DANCING CHAMPIONSHIPS 1952
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, made from parachute silk. 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, or should I say forever. Skin grafts needed to heal and more attention given to learning to walk than dancing.
RATIONING … AND MARRIAGE 1954
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!