Talented dancer and administrator took Australian dance to a new level

AFTER a life-time of achievement and awards for his dance prowess well known Perth dance personality Derek Gatley is reflecting on an illustrious career.

Born in Kalgoorlie in August 1939, Derek grew up in South Perth.

He started dancing aged 17 because his sister Anne needed a partner to attend a ball.

Derek took lessons at Wrightson’s Dance Studio in Hay Street and started working towards and achieving his medals, dancing to his star medal exams in ballroom with Melva Mills and Latin American with Shelda Wrightson.

Derek was only the second person in WA after Ross Letchford to dance the Cuban rumba star exam.

His competitive career started in 1957, only a year after he first took lessons, partnering Gemma Foxwell, then changing to Gail Chipper with whom he won numerous local and WA titles including the 1961 state ballroom title.

One of Derek’s favourite memories is his first win with Gail, the silver medal quickstep event.

Another fond memory is competing against Peter and Shirley Roby, the defending state ballroom champions (1960) and taking the 1961 title.

Derek met and started a life-long friendship with a young Ron Barker, who belonged to the old time set.

That year saw Derek and Gail chosen as WA ballroom representatives to the Australian championships.

Later that year, Derek decided to turn professional, studying under Edgar and Hillary Peters for his associate diplomas and subsequently his members’ degrees.

In 1963, Derek joined forces with Pamela Bidstrup and continued his professional career as both a competitor and coach-teacher.

He and Pam took over the management of Wrightson’s dance studios Fremantle at Victoria Hall.

They travelled to Melbourne to compete in the 1964 Australasian professional ballroom championships at the Palais in St Kilda.

In 1964-65 the couple took local titles in Midland, Fremantle, Perth Festival and Blue Riband along with state titles two years running.

They enjoyed success in the Latin category, winning in Geraldton, Perth and the 1965 state title.

Derek and Pam married in January 1966 and, with only a couple of days’ grace, they sailed on the Oriana on the first of many trips to London.

They spent six months in England, studying under Alex Moore, Elizabeth Romain, Bill and Bobby Irvine and Lina Hunt.

Derek achieved his members degrees with the ISTD (International Society of Teachers Of Dance) and IDMA (International Dance Masters Association later the International Dance Teachers Association).

While in England, Derek and Pam competed in the 1966 world professional ballroom championships in Germany where they reached a semi-final place.

Derek remembers he and Pam being asked to demonstrate the samba after their return to Perth later that year, which also saw them take on the management of Wrightson’s Dance Studios in Hay Street.

The couple also travelled throughout WA to teach, coach and examine.

After taking the title of Australasian professional ballroom champions at Canterbury Court in 1968, they retired from competition.

In 1972, Derek and Pam took over the management of the Murray Street branch of Wrightson’s until 1984, when they focused their efforts back at Hay Street.

In 1982 Derek’s executive career in the dance industry, reached national level when he became secretary of the ADBC (Australian Dancing Board of Control).

After some time, the position of secretary was to change to executive officer of the ADB (Australian Dancing Board), a position he held for 18 years. Derek resigned from his portfolio with the ADB in 2000, and became chief executive officer with DSA (Dance Sport Australia).

He has been an integral member of the organising committee for the WA open dancesport championships for 32 years.

During his time with the ADB and DSA, Derek has held many positions in dance both nationally and internationally including member of the international selection committee 1998-2010; Australian delegate to the ICBD (International Council of Ballroom Dancing) to become the WDC (World Dance Council) 1989-2000 and chairman of adjudicators for the Australian championships Melbourne 1989-2013.

Derek continues in the executive roles of chair of the Rules Commission and chief financial officer for DSA, from 2009.

He is one of only two Australians to hold the distinguished WDSF (World Dance Sport Federation) chairman of adjudicators licence.

Derek remembers the fun and satisfaction that he and Pam enjoyed while teaching with the physical education department (human movement and recreational studies) at the University of WA.

He also recalls the social interaction down the years as dancers and family members joined as one big family for special occasions.

In December 2008, Derek was recognised by the ADS (Australian Dancing Society) with a Golden Brolga at the Australian open championships.

In 2009 he received the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday honours list for his dedication and commitment to the Australian dance industry.

In 1988 he was awarded the Australian Sports Medal in the 1988 bi-centennial celebrations.

As well as parents to Darren and later Larissa (a champion dancer herself), Derek and Pam are now devoted and doting grandparents.

If anyone in the Perth dance scene has historic photos and information for Adam Penn’s ongoing dance series, please contact Adam at tophat97@optusnet.com.au or on mobile 0412 361 917.