It was Rock and Roll – Yeah!!
In 1950 when I was six, a local girl Jeanette Mayo, who was a professional dancer started giving weekly lessons in the function room over the Blue Lion pub at the end of our street. Mum could barely afford the fees let alone suitable shoes, but that was all right because everyone in the neighbourhood was poor; they wouldn’t have the correct shoes either.
Jeanette worked hard showing us stretching exercises, graceful hand movements and how to stand with our toes pointing just so. I soaked it all up and practiced for hours at home, but then Jeanette was offered the chance to tour, the lessons ended abruptly and I had to fall back on my imagination once more.
Then one day a school friend told me about dancing lessons held by the junior section of the League of Health and Beauty at St Giles Hall in Southampton Street. They wore smart outfits consisting of white satin, sleeveless V necked tops with black satin knicker type shorts, plus tap dancing shoes. It sounded very glamorous, and I couldn’t wait to go home from school and tell Mum all about it.
By this time, my sister, who was spending most of the day dancing around in a fairy outfit complete with wings that she’d had for Christmas, wanted to go as well. It meant two of everything but mum was skilled at manipulating the housekeeping money. Within a short time we had spanking new outfits and our very first taps.
The sessions were popular, with dozens of girls from teens to tiny tots jammed into lines according to their height, but despite the striking outfits and our boundless enthusiasm, any further resemblance to the chorus lines so beloved of 1930s Hollywood musicals was lost. It was utter chaos as dozens of steel tipped shoes drummed erratically on the wooden floor, whilst on stage the teacher kicked her legs, stamped, and yelled out instructions above a pounding beat from the piano.
I’d like to say the lessons were a success and we went from strength to strength but we didn’t, and mum, having to replace two outfits plus tap shoes every time we had a growth spurt, was quietly thankful and let the whole matter of dancing lessons drop. From then on the only dancing I did was at family social evenings in St Saviour’s church hall at the other end of our street. Held in order to raise funds for the local Labour Party, the socials with a live band consisting of drums, piano and saxophone, were well attended.
The tunes were from the thirties and forties, the drummer was overly enthusiastic on the down beat and the sax’s high notes wobbled alarmingly, but as the drummer and pianist were elderly and the saxophonist, who wore narrow Edwardian trousers and cracked leather boots with loops on the back was positively ancient, we made allowances.
It was exhilarating dancing with Dad, our local grocer and other neighbours and I was unbearably smug because I could out dance as well as many of the grownups.
I would probably be fox-trotting and waltzing sedately to the likes of Victor Sylvester and his band to this day, had it not been for Bill Haley and “Rock Around the Clock” bursting onto the scene. From then on the grace of ballet, the energy of tap and pride in being treated as a grown up as I glided over the creaky wooden floor of the church hall, lost its appeal.
Jive! I loved it, and yet again mother, bless her, raided the housekeeping so I could dance myself to exhaustion in gathered skirts puffed out with frilly, stiff net petticoats underneath.