Lesbian and gay tea dances in Saltaire and Leeds

Ian reminisces about ballroom dancing lessons, holding tea dances and organising Victor Victoria balls.

Duration 7:02

Image of the Victoria Victoria ‘Grease’ ball from SHOUT! Magazine.


IAN: I can’t remember why, I just remember thinking it would be good to learn how to ballroom dance, and it was quite a long time before Strictly on telly so we weren’t – oh I’ll tell you what is was, it was film… oh god… Strictly Ballroom!

INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah, yeah, Baz Luhrmann?

IAN: Yeah, and ‘Oh I want to do that’, and I think I ended up going for lessons with a female teacher from school, and so we went for lessons, and they – I don’t know if it’s about the same time – there was a, lesbian and gay tea dances were happening in Bradford, run by Nancy’s, and so me and my partner Noel would sometimes go to these tea dances on a Sunday afternoon and met loads of people there, and… but because we hadn’t had lessons together we couldn’t really dance together, and we’d bump into each other, and it was – and we – there were other people who felt the same and wouldn’t it be great to be able to dance together. So, a load of us then – a load of us, probably about four, six, eight people – decided it would be good to find a class that we could all go to together, and – I don’t know if we knew but there was a fantastic woman who, called Liz Normaschild who taught Latin and ballroom at Swarthmore. And, I can’t remember if we said, ‘is it alright if we come…’ and anyway, she was fine with it. She was a lesbian, and most of the rest of the class were fine with it, and so I started learning to dance there. And then we thought, we want somewhere to dance, and there was the Nancy’s tea dances, and I think they’d just folded, and so we talked to the guys who run Nancy’s, which were people like Harvey, and Jason, Henry, and the Lavender Café Orchestra used to play there, which was a lesbian orchestra. And we thought – it used to happen in a, in a… dark, no windows room at the back of the Alhambra in Bradford, and we thought we want it to be beautiful and lovely and we could get tea in a polystyrene cup, and so we decided – we talked to them about taking over or redoing tea dances, and they were great with that, and they gave us lots of advice and we found Victoria Hall in Saltaire, which was this beautiful, elegant room, and so we started putting on tea dances, and we’d spend, a load of us would spend all weekend baking and making sandwiches and cakes and – so we started doing that, and we did that for a few years at Saltaire quite – I can’t remember how often we did them – certainly not every weekend. Just a couple of times a year, I think. And then we decided we’d like to do an evening one. And so we had a ball, rather than a tea dance, and I think it started off with a Halloween ball, and we’d get – there would be things, just crazy things would happen, like a coach full of dykes would turn up from Newcastle, and it was kind of not – yeah, it was getting bigger and, I think, we couldn’t let this coach load of dykes in because there wasn’t room. We limited numbers to a certain extent because you need a bit of room to be able to dance. And it wasn’t just about ballroom dancing, there was ballroom – and the Lavender Café played and Henry and Andy had the Grannies With Attitude DJed, and some of it would be ballroom and Latin music, and then, towards the end of the night, it would be, y’know, disco stuff. It sounds really old-fashioned doesn’t it?

INTERVIEWER: No, it sounds great!

IAN: And we would – we taught – we would teach, we’d have a class during the ballroom Latin bit as well so people could get round the hall and we’d have big group dance, y’know. And we kind of wanted to treat people so people would always be given nibbles or chocolates or, and then we – I can’t remember if we just did the one evening at Saltaire, and me and Noel were going off to Australia for a year – that was in ’97 – and the team said ‘Oh well we won’t have one while you’re not here’, and the bastards not only had one, but it decided to take it to Leeds and have it in, managed to negotiate getting Leeds Town Hall. So 1997 was the first Victoria’s Ball at Leeds Town Hall – and the, as far as I’m, yeah – Channel 4 came and filmed it. I don’t know whether it ever went onto telly, but not only weren’t we there, but they were having an event in Leeds Town Hall and Channel 4 were filming it. And, it just went from there, and we used to – we definitely had one every year, sometimes more, and it was completely a not-for-profit. We managed to cover the costs of the Town Hall and have a bit to plan the next one. And it was a group of people who were, I suppose, into dancing, into putting on a big event, into being giddy and silly and fun – and the other really important thing, as well as all that, was that it was the first organisation, lesbian and gay organisation, to have an event at Leeds Town Hall. And I remember someone saying to me, ‘It’s not very political, is it – putting on tea dances and balls?’ and I remember standing on the stage in Leeds Town Hall in some outrageous, ridiculous outfit in front of a few hundred lesbians and gay men, thinking, ‘This is very political’.