The magical days of the dance halls

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People are being invited to take a step back in time to the halcyon days of the 1950s/60s dance halls by watching a new community theatre project in Kirkcaldy next week.

Locals who spent their youth dancing the night away at famous town venues like the Burma Ballroom and the Palais in Burntisland will be able to relive their memories through the special evening performances at Pathhead Hall.

Fife Performance Ensemble's community project about dance hall days

Fife Performance Ensemble's community project about dance hall days

A new company, called the Fife Performance Ensemble, has been formed by director Alan Lyddiard, local writer Stuart Paterson and designer Neil Murray.

It is made up of local people who have reached the age of 60 who have lots of stories to share about the magical days of the region’s popular dance halls where the big bands entertained thousands during the week and at weekends.

Organised by Fife Cultural Trust with funding from Creative Scotland, the ensemble features a cast of around 35-40 after an appeal was launched for volunteers to take part.

An open invitation was issued in August to Fifers over the age of 60 who were interested in becoming involved.

The Burma Ballroom Dance Band

The Burma Ballroom Dance Band

Alan told The Press: “This is a long-term project I have been working on for many years. I have previously done big community theatre productions in Dundee and Glasgow. I went to Newcastle but came back to Scotland to create a company called the Performance Ensemble which brings together performers over the age of 60 - the Fife Performance Ensemble is just a part of the overall Performance Ensemble.

“The first piece of work the Fife Performance Ensemble is doing is called “Dancing Days”. I have been working on this for just two months and in that time I have created the company and heard the stories about the dance halls.

“The stories have been fantastic and the people we have met have been amazing. We attended afternoon tea dances at the Adam Smith Theatre, as well as dances at Windygates and the CISWO in Glenrothes to speak to people. Stuart Paterson, our writer, has written the script based on the stories we have listened to.”

Alan said the production will include pieces from the volunteers like Bob Christie who was resident vocalist with the Jack Taylor Band which performed regularly at the Burma Ballroom.

“It was difficult initially to persuade the volunteers to take part in the show because it’s outside of their comfort zone. They were nervous to begin with but now they are enjoying it and having fun. We started off rehearsing on Mondays and Tuesdays but it’s now full time, every day.”

But what is “Dancing Days” about?

“The production takes place over one evening and starts off as a dance class,” Alan explained. “Betty, the dance teacher, puts on a record of the Jack Taylor Band. People arrive as if coming to a dance class and little stories begin to emerge during the dancing.

“We hear stories about love which have come from the people we spoke to who met their husbands or wives at venues like the Burma Ballroom.

“But we also show how people can fall in love with someone they can’t have and it’s hopeless. There are disappointments in life, but we always manage to dance again!

“The performers are served with tea, biscuits and sandwiches then the whole hall changes. It turns into a ballroom dance hall - a glitter ball comes in, glitter falls from the ceiling and the people add an aspect of colour. It is very austere at the beginning before the magical world of the dance hall emerges.”

The production is part of Luminate - Scotland’s creative ageing festival - which is taking place this month.

Alan said he is very pleased with how the show has come together:

“Dancing Days” is a lovely piece of work as well as being an authentic piece of theatre,” he said. “There is something very beautiful about people dancing and how relationships are forged on the dance floor. The production isn’t about re-creating a particular dance hall from that time but there are anecdotal stories about venues like the Burma which come through.”

The performance runs for 45-60 minutes and Allan hopes it will lead to an even bigger production next October: “Next year is what I am aiming for - I am hoping to do a larger, full-length production which will open in theatres across Fife in front of bigger audiences, but you have to do it step by step.” Alan added: “Dancing Days” is a sweet little show full of love stories told through dancing - I am sure people will enjoy it.”

A free preview of “Dancing Days” takes place on Monday evening with performances also on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7.00 p.m in Pathhead Hall, Commercial Street, Kirkcaldy. Tickets, priced £5 (conc £3), are available from www.onfife.com.

Memories of the Burma Ballroom - Bob Christie

“I went to the Burma to dance as a young man and when I turned 20 I was invited to take up the post of resident vocalist with the Jack Taylor Band. I was singing with the Burma band for over a year. The band played on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays. The Burma was very popular from 1955-65 and I remember the queues to get into the Burma on a Saturday night were 100 yards long! I remember one night everyone was dancing in the wrong direction and Jack just said to me “Keep on singing Bob!”

DANCE HALL MEMORIES - Tom Young

“I remember the Burma and listening to the Jack Taylor Band as well as the Andy Linton Band - you were never off the dance floor and it was always mobbed. I also went to the Burntisland Palais on a Friday night and if you missed the last bus you walked home to Kirkcaldy! I have been dancing since I was 15 and back then it was mainly ballroom dancing or jitterbugging. I still enjoy dancing today.”