Friday, 22 May 2009

Dance Studios & Ballrooms of 1952

On my own again, aged 17 and still working at Charringtons the brewers in Bensham Lane, Thornton Heath. No girl friend, no regular dance partner and no real inclination to find one. Everywhere I went it was still Stella I couldn't get out of my mind. I wanted to see her again so strongly and at the same time I knew that if I did see her I would do everything to avoid her!

I ventured into The Orchid in Purley one Sunday evening in the early part of 1952. I had to join their Sunday Club as dance halls were not allowed to open on the Sabbath in those days unless it was a registered dance club. I was pretty sure that I wouldn't bump into Stella on this particular evening; Sunday dancing was not something she would have contemplated, especially if she was alone. The Orchid Sunday Club was great if one wanted more room on the dance floor to practice properly and there seemed to be a good selection of female wallflowers to choose from. I didn't just go for anybody to ask for a dance. Oh no sireee; I would watch the couples dancing and then, and only then, would I swoop on a girl if she was a good dancer. I was only interested in enjoying the foxtrots, quicksteps and other dances and that was all. The Sunday Club became a fairly regular venue for a good while and eventually I got to know a few of the regular girls who attended.

I decided one Sunday evening to ask one of them if she would care to partner me on Saturday evenings. Her name was Maureen and she was a year or two older than me I think but I wasn't bothered about that now. Maureen asked where I was thinking of going next Saturday night and I said "The Kursal, Southend on Sea..." She said she'd never been there and neither had I, but my friend who worked alongside me at Charringtons had told me it was a great ballroom with a good resident band. Maureen thought about it over a cup of tea in the Orchid café with me and said OK, she'd give it a go. So that's what we did, and it was a really enjoyable evening.

The Kursaal ballroom had probably one of the finest dance floors in England, and had some of the most famous bands and orchestras of those days, such as Ted Heath, Johnny Dankworth, and many other big bands on that popular stage.

Another decent ballroom was in Streatham Hill, The Locarno. This place was a very popular dance hall especially on Saturday evenings. I went there occasionally but often spent more time in the gallery area just watching the dancing and listening to the band. It was too crowded for ballroom "proper" but OK for tightly packed "social" dancing.

The Court Ballroom in Balham was another place I wandered into once in a while and another in Brigstock Road, Thornton Heath. Both of these palais-de-danse have long since disappeared and strangely enough I can find no reference to them on the web anywhere.

The Semley Dance Studios in Norbury was one of the places where I would venture into now and again, usually to take part in a dance class for intermediate dancers, and this place would figure largely in my life in a few years time.

Ballroom dancing in the early 1950s was very popular, probably the most popular form of entertainment along with the cinema. As the decade progressed it started to change quite drastically. The rot set in (as far as I was concerned) when Bill Haley and his Comets exploded onto the scene. Rock and Roll was born around the mid-1950s and Bill Haley was the band that lit the fuse. Ballroom dancing was still fairly popular but the wilder style of dance was forging ahead eventually leading to disco and other forms of dance, none of which appealed to me, apart from a meek attempt at jive.

That just about takes care of 1952, a generally uneventful year in my life but with 1953 now clearly on the horizon a whole new chapter would be born.

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