Saturday Night Dancing in 1950's London: Researching a Love Story
What was it like, back in the 1950s, for a couple of teenagers from London England to go out dancing on a Saturday night? Imagine a hall split by gender with men standing on one side, perhaps craning their necks to peek across the room at the women gathered on the other. Imagine the women, perhaps standing in groups with their friends, gossiping and sending coy glances at the “fellas” across the room. Imagine a couple of professional dance instructors going over the steps with both the ladies and men before asking them to pick a partner and practice the routine. The atmosphere must have been one of thrill and excitement, as boisterous teenage energy sent hearts thumping, and feet stumbling. With a strong attempt at outward manliness and confidence the young man would attempt to sweep the lady he was partnered with through the steps of the dance, while inwardly using all of his power to avoid stumbling over his own feet.
The jovial energy of the night would be in contrast to the drudgery of the week. The youth of London in the 1950s were faced with a challenging start as the positions at Universities were filled with veterans returning from the Second World War. Poverty was wide spread, and each had to do the best they could with what they had. The teenagers of the 1950s had been children during the war, and many of them would have been sent away during the London Blitz at the beginning of the 1940s, and now, having survived the war, the world was preparing for another. The cold war had begun and London, along with the rest of the world, held its breath at the thought of a Soviet attack. After a tough upbringing, and faced with the new challenges life had given them, Saturday night dancing must have been a welcome escape: a chance for the young to enjoy their youth, and perhaps meet someone to spend their future with.
I am currently writing memoirs for Rick and Joan, who met in London in the 1950s at a Saturday night dance class. I am going to be interviewing the couple this weekend, so in preparation I have been doing some research on the topic. I have been trying to build an idea of the atmosphere at a Saturday night dance so that a picture can come to mind during the interview. One of my favorite pieces that have given me insight is a write up from the autobiography “Free Association”. The description is vivid and transports me to the scene immediately.
I have a little bit of information from the couple already, and I know they met at Russels Dance Studio in Enfield. I had high hopes that if I typed Russel’s Dance Studio Enfield “1950” into Google, information on the actual place might pop up. This was not the case. Though it is not necessary, it would be great to have pictures of the location to stimulate more detailed conversation during our interview, and also to help me with a description when putting the story together. As a writer, I am interested in lots of minute details to help transform the reader to the scene, and I have found that it is these small details that are often lacking in non-fiction writing. Images can fill in a lot of gaps that are left when memories fail.
I may not, as of yet, had success digging up information on Russels Dance Studio, but there is another location that the couple used to go to on a Saturday night: Hammersmith’s Palais de Dance. This time it was as easy as typing the name of the location into Google search! In fact Hammersmith’s Palais was a huge and famous dance studio that was only just torn down in 2007! It was the first big dance studio in London England, and was opened in 1919. There is even video footage from the 1960s of the Palais.
I have downloaded several images of the Palais, which I will bring along to my interview. It is my hope that the images with stimulate an interesting conversation that will help bring the experience to life for me. Even now, staring at the black and white photos, I can almost see the dancers spinning and hear the music playing. I look forward to a lively conversation about a lively event!
Sources of information and further research