Len Goodman’s Dancing Feet, The British Ballroom Story
Strictly’s Len Goodman charts the rise and fall of British ballroom through two world wars and beyond. The scandal and outrage that followed the introduction of each new dance – even the Waltz and the Foxtrot – and beyond into jazz and ragtime and the nightclub scene of the Charleston flappers.
Millions of Brits found their dancing feet
From 1962 in the Cafe de Paris in London, vintage clips show dancers during the Golden Era of ballroom dancing, which became the country’s favourite pastime. On to the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, iconic home of ballroom, where Len found an escape from manual labour as a welder and sought the romance of the dance.
Peggy Spencer OBE tells of the days when ballroom dancing was a great opportunity to meet people under happy circumstances.
Most of their parents met in a ballroom
Black and white footage shows how dancing was initially only accessible to the upper classes in the Portman Rooms, the Savoy and the Ritz. The Waltz was the first of them all and the most popular, but at the time it was called by a Times correspondent as “an obscene display.”
Goodman enlists the help of Erin Boag, Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer, to demonstrate elements of the dance, including the Viennese Waltz which was the most tiring and in the early days, lasted up to 9 minutes. Goodman demonstrates how, in those days, the gents would use a handkerchief in one hand before placing it on the ladies back, as they always had dirty hands. Boag recounts how, in the Tango, the ladies would put a perfumed rose between their teeth and turn their heads to the left, so as to avoid the pong of the male long before deodorant was invented.
The Foxtrot, invented by Harry Fox, with its elegance and sophistication was the dance that everyone wanted to do by the end of the war. As ballroom blossomed, Palais de danse sprung up around the country, some of which were themed and all of which were opulent. Goodman dances at the top of Blackpool Tower, recounting the trips made by the earliest holidaymakers to the seaside town who must have been gobsmaked by the view.
By the time the Charleston came along in the nightclubs and jazz haunts of the 20’s, the ensuing outrage gave the dancers no option but to dance on the top of a London taxi as it drives around.
Things calmed down with strict tempo music and it’s rules, which encouraged more people to follow the format and learn to dance.
Eventually, rock and roll took over from ballroom which left the dance halls and moved into the schools. When television arrived, people stopped going out to dance and stayed in to watch the “new box.”
Goodman recalls how the peak of ballroom was already over by the time he started dancing, but it still caught his imagination with its hint of romance and he says if you’ve never tried it, you don’t know what you’re missing.
Len Goodman’s Dancing Feet will be on BBC Four at 9pm on 27th December 2012