The ‘Dance at 8’ Blog – Paul Pritchard Episode 3

Now at age 14 things start to get serious!!

Leah (my first dance teacher, in episodes 1 & 2) has decided she hasn’t got the time or the experience to push Susan (my first partner in episode 1) and I further in the competition scene. This was sad, on one hand as we had kind of grown up with Leah, but on the other hand she realised she could not do any more for us and it was time to pass us on.

Leah suggested we go to Eric Lashbrooke, a coach who taught at Birkenhead near Liverpool. Now Eric in his younger days was considered a child prodigy, his dancing just came naturally (don’t you hate them). He won all the major championships with ease and I’m sure all the people who had been on the brink of making a final or even winning a championship were stunned as this kid just flew past them, some people have all the luck.

Now Eric was a bit of a lad and even had his collar felt by Mr Plod a few times, but when it came to dancing he had the magic touch. The Lashbrooke stable was well known and all his boys went on to do well, we did not like to come second. I spent many a Saturday dancing around with Eric chasing me and kicking me up the bum to get my hips forward (dancers should never stick their bums out, as I always tell my dancers) and to drive through.

We had much success as Juniors (12 to 16yrs) thanks to Eric and his wonderful wife Norma who supported us all the way. My last big championship as a junior was the International at the Royal Albert Hall in London where we tied for second place, “we should have won”, was the cry and yes I think we should have, as we danced for our lives out there. There is a happy ending though, two days later in Belgium we totally annihilated all the couples that had beaten us at the Royal Albert Hall and they never came close again. Sadly, my friend Michael Shepherd who we tied with at the International died soon after in a motorcycle accident, I still think of him often.

Dance outfits are very important as you must look good on the dance floor plus they help you get noticed by the judges. Tail suits for the men are standard and there are very few tailors can cut them for dancing. A good Tail suit even back in the 70’s would cost about ¬£400 and combined with a fully decorated dress and shoes etc. you were talking about 1200 to 1500 pounds. My parents had my first Tail suit made by a tailor in Worcester, he must have had a bad day when he made mine as it just would not sit right on the shoulders. Now if you don’t have a good clean flat shoulder line this does not look good and can count against you. So my mother jumped into action two days before a championship and single handedly dismantled the shoulders of my new suit. Now my mother was not one to mess with, and armed with her well oiled Jones sewing machine and several sessions of dressmaking at night school she attacked the suit like a tailor possessed. After many sleepless hours the result was astounding, it fitted perfectly and looked fantastic out on the floor. Aren’t Mums great!

Dresses were even more of a pain, as unlike the man’s suit you had to have about three or four new one’s each year or people would get fed up seeing you in the same dress. To save money we often sat around the table and glued rhinestones on to the bodice of the dress. There were thousands of them and you came out with big gluey fingers at the end. The line you often hear used to hear on ‘Come Dancing’ “And here’s Gladys and Norman demonstrating the Waltz, Gladys has sewn all 47,000 sequins on with Norman’s help” (and that’s why they are both cross eyed).

Episode 4, which will be coming out shortly will feature my early days as an Amateur (adult) Dancer, some exciting results and my move to London at the tender age of 18.

Thanks for reading, stay tuned!

The Dance at 8 Blog – Paul Pritchard Episode 2

Paul and Susan at Wally's

To be good at anything you have to practice, practice, practice. I know, I ask my classes every week ‘Ok who has practiced’ and there is a murmur around the room and about 2 people put their hands up. It doesn’t take much, about 15 or 20 minutes a day to keep it in your brain.

Every Saturday afternoon Susan (my first partner, see episode 1) and I went to Wally’s (you know, the Adriatic in episode 1) for the kids class, then we went back to our house for a hearty dancers lunch of chips and those little rubbery Frankfurter sausages out of a tin (the Germans would have a fit if they knew), we loved them.
Come Saturday evening the whole family dressed up and went back to Wally’s. Everyone was there having a great time dancing, drinking (they had a bar) and generally having a good old knees up, something we don’t often see these days. Sometimes they would have what you would call a Taxi dance where the lady’s would line up at what could be described as a Bus Stop and the blokes (few in number) where the Taxis, picking up a lady, dancing her around the floor, then dropping her of at the back of the queue and grabbing the next one. This worked well if you were tall, but I was small and I always seemed to get the big lady’s, so I would end up with my head between Gladys’s boobs and my feet not touching the floor. At this young and tender age I didn’t really appreciate how much fun dancing could be!

Another thing I remember was that all the kids ate loads of cheese and onion crisps, and the strange thing was when we danced together we didn’t notice the evil onion breath but I bet the poor adults did.
On the dance competition scene Susan and I were doing very well competing in both Ballroom and Latin styles now. When I look back I am amazed how our parents managed as neither family was terribly wealthy and we travelled all over the country with very little sleep just battling against all the other kids to get that elusive first prize.

Keeping fit was the first priority. Mum used to give me a raw egg in Port or Sherry I can’t remember which, before I went to school in the morning when I was about 16. This combined with my dad’s Lancashire Hot Pot and the rubbery little German Wursts I was a mini superman.

Going back to the subject of practice we would go out and practice about three times a week. I remember my dear sister Merle and her boyfriend taking Susan and I to the Top Rank Ballroom in Preston every Monday night to practice. Now that’s dedication, if I’d have been the boyfriend I wouldn’t have taken someone’s little brother out, no way Jose.
On occasions we would practice at the Tower Ballroom at Blackpool which is where the British Juvenile and Junior Championships were held. This place along with the even bigger Winter Gardens was the Lourdes of the dancing world, this is where champions were made, only the very best competed here.
Dancing at this level required total commitment and the full support of family and friends, many fell by the wayside for different reasons, lack of money, lost interest, preferred a boyfriend or girlfriend, it was only the dedicated few that came through, I’m glad I survived it would be so boring to be normal!

Don’t miss the next instalment . . . . . .

Moving on to a new Coach
My mother the Tailor
A good Kick up the bum will fix it!

The Dance at 8 Blog – Paul Pritchard Episode 1

Wally's Dance ClubWelcome to the ‘Dance at 8’ Blog. Where this will take us I have no idea, but it will be humorous, enlightening and will hopefully make you realise that dancing is for everyone and maybe you will discover something inside you that you didn’t know was there!

This is my first step (ha ha) into the world of blogging and after 48 years of dancing here there and everywhere I think it’s time I shared some of my knowledge, experiences and anecdotes, so maybe you won’t make the same mistakes (on the dance floor that is).

A dance teacher is not just a dance teacher, he or she is also a psychologist, a referee, a doctor, a technician, a comedian . . . . . the list goes on. It’s not just showing people the dance steps and which way round the floor to go, it’s getting them to feel the music and move around the floor with a passion, two people moving as one. You have to do it like no one is watching, who cares what they think anyway.

For starters this is not my life story, but a brief history of my dance career. I may throw in other humorous events which occurred for your entertainment but no names will be mentioned (not to protect the innocent, but to save embarrassment). There are a few holes as boys never write notes or record things so I am sure people from my past will write in to correct me for any mistakes.
So, I started dancing at about 9 years of age (oops darn it, just gave my age away) at a dance school up in Preston called the Adriatic. It was named after a famous sailing ship which I think sank in Preston Docks and some bright spark built a dance school out of the timbers. Actually the place was better known as Wally’s, named after the owner who was a very good dance teacher and definitely not a Wally.

Leah Hobkirk (Wally’s wife) taught me to dance for about 5 years. Leah was amazing, she was a stickler for getting it right and would not accept just OK. She put me through every medal and exam there was and I passed them all no problem. Why do we have all those medals? You can’t dance with them on, you would fall over, but it made my Mum and Dad proud.

So now it was time to find me a dance partner, her name was Susan, she was cute and we danced together for about 5 years. When we first partnered up we were under 12 years of age, so we danced in the Juvenile division (you know, the cute one’s with the little white socks, dickie bows, and hair plastered down with Brylcreem), did I get my leg pulled at school or what.
Our first competition was in Crewe and was run by a very nice man called Bill Oakes and guess what, we actually came 3rd and boy did we celebrate.

Tune in soon for the next instalment . . . . . .

Saturday nights at Wally’s
Paul, in the Bosom of Dance
Cheese and Onion Crisps