Century of ballroom dancing lives again in new exhibition

Embassy Ballroom at New Year’s Eve
Embassy Ballroom at New Year’s Eve

IT’S 100 years since Perth dance teacher Ethel Philp introduced the ballroom dancing syllabus into her dance school, setting in train a fascinating history of dance in WA. To celebrate, Perth dance teacher, performer and dance historian Adam Penn is staging Century
of Dance
, a free photographic exhibition celebrating the lives, careers, venues and events in dance.

Compiled over the past six months, Adam has delved deep into the archives to compile the exhibition which features 3000 photographs, 50 costumes and extensive information about the eras of dance while celebrating the people, venues including the Embassy and Canterbury Court ballrooms, Pagoda ballroom and Government House ballroom and events that have impacted people’s lives over the past century.

“Apart from the many champions WA has produced, the social and romantic aspects of ballroom dancing changed lives for many,” Adam said. “Tens of thousands of people have danced at dinner dances, balls, cabaret and weddings, forming relationships through dance while attending classes.

“Many used their dance skills at debutante balls with special social events staged at studios throughout the State, a real highlight. Many people met their future partners on the dance floor.”

The exhibition commemorates people such as Ethel Philp (1920s and 30s), Rene Estler (1920s and 30s), Robert Wrightson (AM) and Shelda Wrightson ((1940s and 50s), Sam Gilkison OBE and Ronnie Gilkison (1930s and 40s), Len and Pamela Humphreys OAM (1950s and 60s), Daele Fraser OAM (1950s and 60s), Eddie Ward (1930s), Doreen Dawson (Geraldton, 1930s and 40s), Mary T Shaw (Bunbury, 1930s and 40s), Terri King (1940s and 50s) and Ailsa Miller (1950s and 60s).

Current day providers include Sandra and Glen Skilbeck (Rockingham), Sue and Ross Kramer (Melville), Pat Taylor (Hilton and Over 50s Dance Club), Debbie Godenzi (Hamilton Hill), Richard and Julie Morrissey (Malaga), Geoff Stubbs (Balcatta) and Julie Patchett and Graham Thomas (Melville).

Local international stars include world title holders Jason Gilkison and Peta Roby, Peta Murgatroyd (twice winner of Dancing with the
Stars America
), Katrina Patchett (twice winner of Dancing with the Stars France), Joshua Keefe, international dancer and star of Dancing
with the Stars Australia
and Dianne Buswell, current star on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

“When I decided to compile an exhibition, I was helped in part by a series of articles on prominent dancers down the years which featured in Have a Go News,” Adam said. “This prompted people to contact me with information and things developed from there.

“In 2006 while secretary of the Australian Dancing Board WA branch we produced a dance calendar. The State Library had little about Sam Gilkison and Robert Wrightson so we decided to do further research.

“Over the past 50 years WA has been a powerhouse on the dance scene, with Jason Gilkison and Peta Roby, Paul Green, Robert and Shelda Wrightson, Jim and Betty Mashmedt who opened a Wrightson’s studio in NSW and Roy and June Mavor who took formation dancing to the US.

The exhibition opening in February at Camelot Theatre in Mosman Park attracted more than 300 people over two days and Adam says the response has been fabulous with many wanting to visit again.

“Seeing the exhibition come together has been most satisfying. All the picture frames, easels and mannequins have been recycled from op shops or roadside collections so nothing has been wasted.”

Adam is planning to further expand the exhibition, taking it to aged care and corporate organisations. He is seeking more photographs and information.

Future exhibition dates: Atwell Gallery, 586 Canning Highway, Alfred Cove 10am-4pm April 8–17; Bentley May; Pinjarra June; Bunbury Museum, 10am-4pm July 4–29; Albany Town Hall 10am-4pm August 12–15; Belmont September; Geraldton November and Zig Zag Gallery Kalamunda 10am-4pm December 13–20.