Vintage Dancing Girls reaches 500 photographs

What began as a side project to my hobby of collecting old photographs has now reached the point where there are 500 “Vintage Dancing Girls” in my flickr album of that name.

The photograph above is number 500. There is no information to identify the girl or the studio/photographer responsible. Often a photo or RPPC will have the studio printed on the reverse or embossed on the front. With luck there will be the name of the girl(s) that some family member has written on the back. In the case of professional or semi-pro dancers there may be much more information.

Here’s an example of a professional troupe, the George Carden Dancers,  where it’s possible to know much more. Stamped on the reverse is “Copyright Photograph by Associated Television (ATV) (Reproduction for editorial purposes if credit given).” This troupe appeared in many British TV programmes of the 1950s and 1960s including the Royal Variety Performance.

The two photos above come from a  full album of photographs. Very few have any information and certainly none of the performers’ names. All except one of the photographs give the locations as Par, St Ives and Newquay and are dated 1936. The exception is noted as Bognor 1937. There is one photograph of the girls in everyday clothes recorded as Stanmore Common which is in the London Borough of Harrow. Putting the pieces together it seems most likely that the girls are a semi-professional or amateur group of dancers from London who toured the South of England in 1936 and 1937. (The board advertising a demonstration by “London Experts” would seem to confirm this.)

Many troupes were performers in Music Hall and Variety (also a subject I collect). These are four Tiller Girls. When I began this collection I thought the Tiller Girls were just the troupe that used to perform in Sunday Night at the London Pavilion but in fact Tiller Girls began in 1890 under the guidance of John Tiller and there have been many troupes of Tiller Girls. Tiller’s Girls by Dorothy Vernon is a good book if you want to know more about the Tillers and their variants.

Jessie Matthews was probably our greatest dancing girl of all time and is best seen in her musicals of the 1930s. Look her up on YouTube and be amazed. (She later became known as Mrs Dale in the long running radio series Mrs Dale’s Diary).

No identification of the performers on this one but photo is credited to R Foucher-Creteau of Paris.

It’s taken ten years to assemble the collection of Vintage Dancing Girls and simple arithmetic suggests one photograph was added every week but in reality it’s been more sporadic. There have been several albums which have provided multiple photographs, such as the one mentioned earlier of London dancers performing in St Ives. You can see the full album where I will continue to add photographs in my flickr feed.

Ballet in Weymouth UK – the 1950s and 1960s

 

My most recent acquisition is an album of ballet and ballet-related photographs together with a handful of loose photographs and clippings, also ballet-related. Most of the photographs are from Weymouth, or at least the photographers were from Weymouth. The album containing the photographs is from a stationer in Weymouth too. There are two frustrating things about this collection; firstly there is nothing to indicate who owned this collection in the first place; secondly, although there seems to be a plethora of dance schools operating in Weymouth today, none of them have been established more than ten or twenty years so I can’t identify the school where most of the photos were taken.

I would say that the productions featured indicate that this was a group of amateurs but with serious ambitions. See for instance the shots from the production of Giselle helpfully dated 1961. A feature of the productions is that, as far as I can tell from the photographs, all the parts were danced by females. I haven’t found a photograph with a male dancer.

Other photographs indicate that this school, and it isn’t certain all the shots came from a single place, also ran dance classes covering all ages. There are shots of classes full of young girls and others full of mature females.

Two males who do feature in the album are Cyril Beaumont, dance historian and president of the Cecchetti Society (of which more in a moment) and Anton Dolin, a principal dancer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the 1920s and Vic-Welles ballet in the 1930s. As Dolin appears in the photograph with several ballerinas taken by Harry Taylor of Bournemouth I assume he at least paid a visit to the school.

There is a series of group photographs noted to be summer schools from 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962, 1965, and 1969. There was a word I couldn’t read on the back of some of these shots but I eventually deciphered it as Cecchetti. This is apparently a method of teaching classical ballet dancing devised by Enrico Cecchetti and now promoted by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing. I’m the first to admit that I know almost nothing about ballet – I’ve been to the ballet maybe half a dozen times in my life but doing this research is teaching me a lot.

As I mentioned, the photographers responsible for these shots are varied although one name appears quite often – that of Harry Taylor of Bournemouth. Taylor, now deceased, was known as “Flash Harry,” presumably after the character in the early St Trinian’s films. His moment of fame seems to have been photographing the Beatles who played several times in Bournemouth, a nearby town to Weymouth. His ballet photographs were mostly framed in a distinctive white border (not always reproduced here). Some of his work, if indeed it was him personally, is very distinctive such as the shot of Anton Dolin signing autographs. Sad to say other examples of his work from this collection, whilst looking well-framed and posed, are often poor quality and out of focus on a close examination.

There are several shots of solo ballerinas, some moody and evocative. I particularly like this shot above.

Elsewhere there are some great group shots, mostly posed but a couple of well-caught action photographs.

This signed photograph of Alicia Markova is dedicated to Lilian someone but I can’t make out the second name. Could this Lilian be the owner of the album? I’ve made the remark before but it always strikes me as sad when a collection like this has become disconnected from the family of the original owner. It looks as though this set of photographs and clippings almost certainly belonged to a young girl who maintained her interest in ballet as she grew up – the photos with dates range from 1953 to 1969. Sixteen years of ballet history that must have been of passionate interest to the collector but ended up for sale on ebay by someone who probably bought it at auction or in a house clearance. It’s a privilege to be able to rescue and preserve collections like this.

Finally, if anyone does know more about ballet in Weymouth during the 1950s and 60s I’d love to know. More photos from this collection can be seen in my flickr album of Vintage Dancing Girls.