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U3A Writing: Dancing

“I adored the dances – Valeta, military two-step, St. Bernard’s Waltz…’’ Brenda Hellawell recalls her dancing days.

I have just read an article about dances such as foxtrot and quickstep in ‘Woman’s Weekly’ magazine. It reminded me of my dancing years.

When I was young, some of my friends went to a dancing class – tap, ballet etc., but my mother said she could not afford to pay for me to have lessons. However, when I was eight years old, I had the opportunity to learn ballroom dancing.

My family went to Morecambe on holiday for many years. My sister took me to the Winter Gardens to dance. It was a very big place with ornate decorations. It was situated on the sea front in the centre of the resort. I was lucky that Joyce, at 16, would take me. It was mostly old tyme dancing. I adored the dances – Valeta, military two-step, St. Bernard’s Waltz, etc.

Shortly afterwards we moved house. I remember borrowing a public library book on learning to dance by Victor Sylvester. At church once a month we had a dance and whist drive in the winter months. The church had a license for dancing and could have a dance band but no vocalist. The dances and whist drives were held in the very large two storied Sunday School.

Some other churches and even some of our members did not approve of the dances, but local people in Milnsbridge could go to the events instead of going to town. I thoroughly enjoyed the dances. We danced lancers, palais glide, balling the jack, the barn dance, as well as other ballroom dances.

I remember one year having a grey and red square-necked dress with red court shoes, of which I was very proud. I danced most dances, having a rest when supper was provided halfway through the evening. The supper, which was provided by the organisation running the dance, usually consisted of sandwiches, cakes and non-alcoholic drinks, and the evening cost 2s 6d.

When I was about 16 years old, a friend and I went on Friday teatimes after school to Miss Richardson’s, nicknamed Ricky’s dance studio at Westgate in town. Other young people of our age also attended from Greenhead Girls High School and Huddersfield College for boys.

When I went to college in Hull, I went to a few formal dances there. We had to wear a long dress, and mine, which I had made, was a failure. It was mauve and green taffeta. The style I chose was too tight around the chest and arms for dancing comfortably.

At the college, officers from the nearby RAF camps were officially invited to the dances because we were a ladies’ college. We were allowed to go to the university dances in Hull because the halls of residence were next door to the college. The dances ended at 11.30 p.m. We had to be back at our college hostel by 11.45 p.m.

There was a fancy dress Night Attire dance. Fellow students and I had to parade in our outfits in front of the warden of our hostel before we were allowed to go to the dance. At the time the age of majority was 21, so the college was responsible for us. Some of the outfits of the university students were imaginative. I remember one was half evening suit/half pyjamas.

I had a marvellous time. I’ve always remembered a dance changing to a samba. I told my dance partner that I did not know how to do it. He told me to follow his instructions as we danced. He was an expert, and I’ve never danced such an intricate samba since.

As the years progressed, I went with friends to Greenhead Masonic. This was about the time of ‘That Was the Week That Was’ on TV. When the programme was on, there was plenty of room on the dance floor, as many people went to watch the programme on TV in another room.

I went a few times with my sister to old tyme dances at Cambridge Road Baths. I also went once to the Regent Ballroom. A partner threw me over his shoulder doing bopping. It took me three days to recover. I also went to the Nalgo Ball at the Town Hall. Unfortunately, at one Nalgo Ball my dance partner moaned all the evening about failing his driving test.

I remember being in a show at church. I was required to dance a foxtrot, which I didn’t know very well. My dance partner knew how, but wasn’t very good at remembering the singing we had to do. Somehow we muddled through an there were no complaints.

The dances and shows had to stop at church when the main chapel was sold and the Sunday School building was converted as a church about 1961.

Through the next 25 years I did not do as much ballroom dancing because of lack of opportunity. I went to about three formal dances a year. To my dismay, long dresses went gradually out of fashion. I always thought that they looked most attractive on the dance floor, unlike a leather miniskirt and knee-length boots, which I once saw at Bridlington Spa. I remember seeing a memorable concoction of pink with white fur at the Spa Ballroom at Torquay.

When it was the Queen’s Silver Jubilee at the NODA Conference, I wore a new long dress for the formal dinner and dance. It was white with big blue daisies and a few red stripes. Another lady had a dress just like mine at the same table at the dinner. She did not look happy. I think her dress was not as new as mine.

I noticed at following conferences until 1999 that more non-ballroom dances, such as the twist and birdie dances which I managed to dance, were being introduced for the young people. Despite my bad leg, I was able to dance the Valeta, military two step and St. Bernard.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to dance my favourite, which was the quick step. When line dancing became popular, I tried to do it, without success.

My dancing days came to an end in 1999, but I have my memories. The recent BBC ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ bring back memories and give me a lot of enjoyment.

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