A century of ballroom dancing comes to life in a new exhibition

Embassy Ballroom on New Year's Eve
Embassy Ballroom on New Year’s Eve

It’s been 100 years since Perth dance teacher Ethel Philp introduced the ballroom dancing program to her dance school, setting in motion a fascinating history of dance in WA. To celebrate, Adam Penn, dance teacher, performer and dance historian from Perth, stages Century
a free photographic exhibition celebrating the lives, careers, places and events of dance.

Compiled over the past six months, Adam has dug deep into the archives to compile the exhibition which features 3,000 photographs, 50 costumes and extensive information about dance eras while celebrating people, places such as halls of Embassy Ballroom and Canterbury Court, the Pagoda Ballroom and Government House Ballroom and events that have impacted people’s lives over the past century.

“Besides the many champions WA has produced, the social and romantic aspects of ballroom dancing have changed the lives of many,” Adam said. “Tens of thousands of people have danced at dinner dances, balls, cabarets and weddings, bonding through dance while taking classes.

“Many used their dancing skills at debutante balls with special social events held at studios across the state, a real highlight. Many people have met their future partners on the dance floor.

The exhibition commemorates people like Ethel Philp (1920 and 1930), Rene Estler (1920 and 1930), Robert Wrightson (AM) and Shelda Wrightson ((1940 and 1950), Sam Gilkison OBE and Ronnie Gilkison (1930 and 1940), Len and Pamela Humphreys OAM (50s and 60s), Daele Fraser OAM (50s and 60s), Eddie Ward (30s), Doreen Dawson (Geraldton, 30s and 40s), Mary T Shaw (Bunbury, 30s and 40s ), Terri King (1940s and 1950s) and Ailsa Miller (1950s and 1960s).

Current suppliers 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 Dance with the
Stars America
), Katrina Patchett (twice winner of Dancing with the starsFrance), Joshua Keefe, international dancer and star of Dancing
with the Stars Australia
and current BBC star Dianne Buswell Come dance strictly.

“When I decided to compile an exhibition, I was helped in part by a series of articles about renowned dancers over the years who appeared in get started“, Adam said. “It made people contact me with information and things that grew from there.

“In 2006, when we were secretary of the WA branch of the Australian Dancing Board, we produced a dance calendar. The State Library had little on Sam Gilkison and Robert Wrightson, so we decided to do some more 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 opening a Wrightson studio in NSW and Roy and June Mavor who trained to dance in the United States.

The exhibition’s opening in February at the Camelot Theater in Mosman Park drew over 300 people over two days and Adam says the response has been fabulous, with many wanting to visit again.

“Seeing the exhibition come together was very satisfying. All frames, easels and mannequins were recycled from farm shops or roadside collections so nothing was wasted.

Adam plans to expand the exhibit further, taking it to senior care and business. He is looking for more photos and information.

Upcoming 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 City Hall 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 12-15; September Belmont; Geraldton November and Zig Zag Gallery Kalamunda 10am-4pm December 13-20.

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