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.
The collection of “vintage dancing girls” that I began as a flickr album in 2012 has now passed 400 entries. I’ve no doubt the album title will be considered non-PC these days though, as I have previously written, the term “girl” has been applied very widely and has included men who cross dress. (I haven’t included Vesta Tilley, a very famous male impersonator. Would she be classified as a dancing girl anyway? There are many postcards of her to be found on the internet and a biography by Sara Maitland if you are interested).
As you can see here’s an example of men cross dressing though why and where I do not know. Possibly from an ENSA or other wartime show.
The number of studio posed girls in dance dress is almost impossible to guess but I wouldn’t be surprised if it ran into the hundreds of thousands. This is a good example of the genre.
Another source of material comes from dancing schools. This for instance comes from an album of photographs and articles about amateur productions put on by Raybury Dance school sometime in the 1930s and later.
There have been many dance troupes that performed in variety and where this is clearly the case I have also included them in an album featuring variety, music hall and theatre performers. Again the numbers of these troupes is staggering and it’s very difficult to track down information on them to identify when and where they performed.
This last photograph comes from the famous Windmill Theatre. There are many collectors of material from the Windmill and some of the performers are still alive. This particular photograph lists the performers on the reverse and I was amazed to be contacted by another flickr user who told me one of them was his mum!
Miss Marjorie Sear in a beautiful hand-coloured photograph. This is the only colour photograph of her from a recently acquired and comprehensive set of Marjorie and her friends all in dance poses. Many of the photographs are dated around 1939 and this is likely to be from the same period.
I first came across Miss Sear when I bought a set of 22 sepia photographs of her. When I acquired this set the only identification was the envelope in which they came addressed to “Miss Sear.” They came in an envelope from Jerome Ltd of Kings Cross Road London. They were all date stamped 31 March 1939. It wasn’t until I was later able to acquire two more sets of photographs from the same source that I was able to identify her as Marjorie Sear. Lots the photographs feature groups of dancers. I’m not sure whether she appears in all the group photos but she’s certainly in most of them.
On the reverse of this shot her age is given as 15 and it’s the only photo that mentions her age. I would think the sepia shots are her slightly older and there are clearly some of her younger than 15.
About half of the 60+ photos feature Marjorie with her friends in various dance costumes both on stage and outside. Whatever happened in their later lives they were clearly all enthusiastic dancers and liked to dress up.
As ever I am amazed how family treasures such as this set of photographs can disappear into salerooms and ebay having been lost or discarded. I know that these photos came from a house clearance and so I assume Marjorie Sear is dead and there are no relatives who survive her and want to keep her memory alive. How many more marvellous documents of social and personal history have been lost for all time?
You can see the full set of photographs of Marjorie and her friends in this flickr album.