Monday, December 01, 2008

Glamour and enjoyment in the wartime dance halls

'The Dual Dancers' ending one of their dance hall demonstrations
Glamour and enjoyment in one photograph!
(Left to right: Frank Spencer, Peggy Spencer, Walter Laird, Andé Lyons)
Photograph from collection of Mrs Andé Tyrer (Lyons)

In the dark, grim days of the war with thousands of young men and women stationed overseas or in camp sites and gun sites on the Home Front many miles from home, family and friends, music and dancing in the British dance halls provided much-needed glamour and enjoyment. At that time, during the Second World War, there were many dance halls throughout Britain where people could meet up and enjoy themselves in a friendly atmosphere. Generally speaking, many of the British ballrooms of this era had been developed upon good surroundings and decor and encouraging good appearance and manners among the dancers.

Among those who helped promote dancing during the war years and the immediate post-war years were the 'Dual Dancers': Frank Spencer, Peggy Spencer, Walter Laird, Andé Lyons, seen in the above photograph. This photograph was taken at the end of a cabaret dance demonstration in a dance hall, and it clearly demonstrates the enjoyment and glamour of the dance hall that all dancers could have on the ballroom.

(For additional information click on 'Comments' below)


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

Not everyone could possibly attain the standard of dancing demonstrated by Frank and Peggy or Walter and Andé Lyons. Yet if someone can walk then they can dance! Hence virtually everyone should be able to go on to a ballroom floor and dance. In addition to expert cabaret dance demonstrations by the 'Dual Dancers', during the war at least social dancing for all was encouraged. In 1941 the BBC 'Dancing Club' hosted by Victor Silvester began broadcasting on the radio. Each broadcast included a short dancing lesson so people could learn the correct steps they would find useful to be able to dance in the local 'palais'.

After the war the BBC 'Dancing Club' transferred to the television, using much the same format as the earlier wartime radio broadcasts. However, the television broadcasts had the advantage of being able to give a visual dimension to the dance lessons and demonstrations. Previously, when the 'Dancing Club' broadcasts were on the radio only those in the studio audience were able to see what was happening on the dance floor. Victor Silvester often invited Frank, Peggy, Walter and Andé to demonstrate the dances for the BBC 'Dancing Club'. So the 'Dual Dancers' were among the best known ballroom dancers of that era.

As well as dance lessons, dance demonstrations and social dancing, during the Second World War there were several dances where the dance floors would be packed by everyone doing the same dance. One of these dances that packed virtually any ballroom in the early part of the war was the 'Lambeth Walk'. This had been adapted for the ballroom by Carl Heimann and Adèle England (from the Mecca group of dance halls) from the stage musical 'Me and My Girl' starring Lupino Lane. Another popular dance in the first year of the war was one developed from 'The Siegfried Line', where all the dancers simulated doing their washing and hanging it out on the German Siegfried Line.

Two other relatively simple dances adapted to the dance hall for the masses by Carl Heimann and Adèle England were 'The Chestnut Tree' and 'Knees Up, Mother Brown'. In fact, both these dances - or an adaptation of them - could be done anywhere and not just in the dance hall, and have never really died out. They involved some singing as well as dancing, and always seems to be a good laugh. Either of these dances can still be a good finale to an enjoyable evening's entertainment.

With the Second World War the 'Boogie-Woogie' rhythm arrived with the Americans joining the Allied cause. The 'Boogie-Woogie' had a pulsating beat which just invited young people to dance! This rhythm had eight beats to the bar of music and one danced the 'Jitterbug' to it. During the 'Dual Dancers' cabaret demonstrations, Walter and Andé would dance a distinctive and unorthodox 'Jive', adapted from the 'Jitterbug'. Shortly after the war, the Jive became an official part of the Latin American repertoire.

In the 1960s many dancers thought of Walter Laird as a Latin American specialist, especially after winning the International Professional Latin American Championship with a later dancing partner - Lorraine Reynolds. However, like all the best dancers Walter Laird could do any style of dance he turned his attention to performing.

Many of the top men in the ballroom dancing fraternity of the post-war years had excellent wartime service careers behind them. No doubt they were helped by developing their dancing skills at the same time. Victor Silvester Junior was an officer in the Hampshire Regiment (6th Airborne Division) and became a partner in his father's dancing business after the war. Sonny Binick, who went on to win both the British and International Professional Ballroom Dancing Championships in the 1950s was in the Paratroops (1st Airborne Division) taking part in Operation Market Garden (Arnhem) in 1944. During the Second World War people went to the dance halls and enjoyed a wide range of music and dancing, something many of them never lost.

Monday, 01 December, 2008  

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