In 1953, when I was eleven, there wasn’t as much entertainment as nowadays. There was no TV, no Netflix, no YouTube, no MP3s, no DVDs, and no tape cassettes. Our main entertainment was listening to the radio, going to the movies, and occasional dances.
Dances were often linked to an event like a birthday party or a club’s end-of-year celebration. They were an opportunity to dress up a bit, to meet friends, and (most importantly for us teenagers) for boys and girls to mix with each other!!!
I can’t find any videos of old fashioned dances in New Zealand, but watch the beginning of this British one to get an idea of what they were like in those days: www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_xzfocwUp4. Notice that all the men are in suits and the women are dressed up in their best gowns (no jeans here)!
Click the links below to see some of the dances that were popular of the time. Again, none of the videos are from New Zealand, but they’ll give you an idea of the types of dances we did at that time (all very different from today’s “stand apart and wiggle” dances).
I was taught to dance by my mother, Nell Lacey (known to her grandchildren as Nanna Nell). When she was a young woman, mum had owned a dance studio in Whangarei (her home town), so she was an expert. The picture on the right was taken in the mid-1930s and shows her on stage with some of her students. That’s mum in the front, dad’s sister Freda at back left, and mum’s sister Leni third from left.
Mum gave my sister her first ballet lessons (Lynne went on to become a ballet teacher herself), and taught both of us Scottish and Irish dancing. (I can still remember practising the Highland Fling out the back of dad’s chemist shop in Maungaturoto.)
And she taught all three of her children ballroom dancing. So, by the time I was eleven, I was already an accomplished dancer, which was unusual for boys in those days.
I have two clear memories of going to dances around that time. The first was a big formal dance held in the Maungaturoto Town Hall (since rebuilt as the Centennial Community Centre). I’m not sure what the occasion was, but I remember that dad made a speech and I remember dancing with mum.
The other dance was put on specially for young people in the tiny Marohemo Hall, off the Whakapirau Road (see the picture on the right). I stayed the previous night at my friend Doug Snelling’s house (at the base of the Brynderwyn Hill, opposite where Atlas Quarries are now), and I fell deeply in love with his sister, Una, who was very beautiful indeed. I think she was a year older than me, so that meant she was twelve.
The next night we all got dressed up and drove to the dance. There were seven of us in the car (Mr and Mrs Snelling, Doug and me, Una and a school friend, and Trish the younger sister), which meant there was quite a crush in the back seat, which meant that I was sitting perilously close to Una, which meant that I received a full blast of her delicious perfume. It’s sixty-five years later and I can still clearly remember the agony of being too close, and the agony of not being close enough.
We got to the Marohemo Hall and my undoubted expertise at dancing came to nothing. Una only had eyes for twelve year olds. Life was hell.