Thursday, 14 May 2009

The Fandango Days and Nights

Jimmy Quinn and the lovely Patricia Teare. These two expert ballroom dancers introduced me to the delights of the tango, foxtrot, quickstep and waltz when I was sixteen-and-a-half.
This photo was taken in 1950, about three years prior to Jimmy's death from a brain tumour. Patricia was about 18 or so and was Jimmy's new partner for teaching and for demo dances at places like the Orchid Ballroom, in Purley, and other ballrooms in the south east.
Their dance studio was in Biddulph Road, South Croydon and it was here, in late June 1951, that I took my first tentative steps into the world of dance. It was a wonderful world then and remains so for me and my wife (also named Patricia!).
I recall that first lesson as though it were yesterday. A cool June evening and I was in my new double-breasted grey birds-eye pattern suit, complete with a pair of patent leather dance pumps, carried in a little linen bag before entering the portals of heaven, also known as the Jimmy Quinn School of Dancing! If heaven exists then this dance studio was paradise to this young Croydon lad. The place was pleasantly populated by a good-looking bevy of young ladies and almost as many young chaps. Probably a ratio of about 10:8 girls:boys, so no complaints from me on that score.
There was quite a heady blend of perfumes in the air with "Evening in Paris" one of the favoured brands and perhaps Violetta de Parma another popular one in those days. After-shave for the lads was not much used then and the only "grooming" for men was usually Brylcreem, which had a pleasant enough aroma I guess.
As is the norm, beginners are first introduced to the waltz, a simple one, two, three step sequence repeated ad lib. Jimmy Quinn instructed the men and Patricia took the ladies through the basic steps. After a short while, probably 10 minutes or so, we were asked to pair up with a girl to practice the hold and then the steps. Yes, heaven existed and it was here on earth in a dance hall in Biddulph Road!
Another 10 minutes or so of inelegant "one, two, three" steps called out by Jimmy we were ready to try it to music. Yes, the gramophone was fired up and a 78 rpm record was spinning on the turntable with "The Tennessee Waltz" providing the strict tempo - played by the one and only Victor Silvester and his ballroom orchestra. This tune remains one of my favourite melodies to this day.
After all this intensive tuition, (well, it seemed intensive to me!) it was time for a nice cuppa tea, provided by the lovely Patricia Teare wearing her tea and biscuits hat. This gave us all the chance to chat amongst ourselves - and I chanced my arm with Stella, the girl with whom I'd practised the waltz; she was with her friend Mavis. It was a somewhat diffident, even timid, approach by me as it was all so new and exciting but also a tad scary. Fortunately, both these ladies were polite and friendly; I danced with each of them in the second half of the lesson, but much favoured Stella.
The class ended at 9.30-ish and everybody made their way out of the hall. Stella and Mavis lived only a short walk away from their homes but I had a bus journey to get back to Hathaway Road, Broad Green. I said cheerio to them at the bus stop in the main road and they went on their way home, saying that they'd be at the next lesson, which was music to my ears.
How would this new and enthralling venture progress; I could hardly wait for the next lesson!

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