Back in the day, it was either cards, dancing or the movies.
Dorothea Miles remembers growing up in Spring Gully that the area didn’t have a lot to offer young people.
Mrs Miles put on her dancing shoes for the first dance at the Spring Gully Hall in 1958.
In two weeks time, she’ll put them on again, as the hall celebrates 60 years of continuous Saturday night dances.
On the night of the first dance in 1958 Mrs Miles remembers that the hall was packed, with a band and supper in the hall.
The dance was to celebrate the opening of the hall, which was newly built on the Spring Gully Oval.
Since then dances have been held at the hall every Saturday night.
Spring Gully Dancers will celebrate the achievement with a Gala and Sash Ball, where they will take to the floor, dressed in their best, to the tunes of the Family Rhythm Dance Band for “old-time dancing”.
Fun and frolics at the local ball
Mrs Miles had always loved to dance. She remembers being chased off dancefloors with friends at the age of 10, because they were too young to dance.
The Waltzes were her favourites.
In those days, such dances were sure to get a few paragraphs in the Bendigo Advertiser.
“In the old days they always used to write up the balls that were around the district, and you’d get a description of your frock,” Mrs Miles said.
Anyone and everyone enjoys a dance
Since 1958, the average age of dancers has increased. Then “anybody and everybody” would turn out to go to a dance.
Now, the dancers try to encourage young people to get involved, without much success.
Most of the dancers are in their 70s now, with a few notable exceptions. One of the hall’s most dedicated dancers still takes to the floor, and is well into her 90s.
Many regulars attended in their youth, before the pressures of family life forced them to take a break.
And many of these people had met their life partners at the dance.
After these hectic years finished, these people have returned to the dance floor, where they are still enjoying themselves today.
Committee members say dancing is vital for their health.
Socially, physically and cognitively they believe it keeps them fit.
Some attendees just come to enjoy the atmosphere. They sit by the side of the hall and enjoy the music.
Spring Gully Hall Committee president Keith Woods sees the power of music and the memories it evokes when he visits nursing homes.
Many of the residents may not be able to dance, or even remember much, but the sound of the music takes them back to their younger days.
“They really enjoy the music, and you can see their feet start to tap,” Mr Woods said.
That first dance
Treasurer of the Spring Gully Hall Committee Joy Kentish was also at that first dance, as a baby in a pram.
Her parents, then in their 20s had decided to enjoy themselves on an evening out.
Like many, Mrs Kentish herself danced in her 20s before having a family.
She has returned to dancing in the last 18 years. It was the friendly atmosphere of the dance hall that drew her back.
“I just needed something different in my life,” Mrs Kentish said.
“I wasn’t married at the time, so I thought this would be nice social event, [to] meet new people, something that I could manage, something easy, didn’t cost a lot.”
Mrs Kentish met her present husband at a dance, but not at Spring Gully Hall. Since meeting in 2000, they have been married 14 years.
Are dancing days done?
Of course, they didn’t call it “old-time dancing” then.
For young people living in Spring Gully, Bendigo and beyond, it was a social outing, a chance to meet each other.
“A lot of people when they have their 50th and 60th anniversary say they met at dances,” Mr Woods said.
Mrs Miles recalls a clear point at which dancing died out, before being revived.
She thinks it may have been around the time televisions became more common.
She has seen it gradually come back in again, among those who learnt to dance young.
In the past decade numbers at the dance have swelled, until 100 or more people would come on a good night.
Time has taken its toll in recent years and now a good night means 50 or 60 dancers.
Always Spring Gully Hall on a Saturday night
An excellent dance floor is partly to thank for the longevity of the dances many on the committee believe.
They’re very protective of that floor, always making sure when they hire out the hall that it will be well cared for.
Of course, a floor doesn’t make a dance last 60 years.
“I don’t know where else you can get, for nine dollars, four hours entertainment, a good supper and good company.”Judy Browne
Secretary of the Spring Gully Hall Committee Judy Browne believes part of the success of the dances is thanks to their regularity.
While many dances are only on once a month, the Spring Gully Hall hosts not one, but three a week. As well as their Saturday night dances, always with a live band, they dance on Monday nights and often on a Friday night or Sunday afternoon.
“If people dance these days, they always know it’s Spring Gully Hall on a Saturday night,” Mrs Browne said.
“I don’t know where else you can get, for nine dollars, four hours entertainment, a good supper and good company.”
Not many dances reach 60 years, especially without a break, so the Spring Gully Hall Committee has decided to make it special.
They will hold a ‘Gala and Sash Ball’ in October to celebrate the achievement.
No one recalls the exact date of the first dance in the hall, but it seems likely it was late September or early October, as that’s when the dancers have always held their annual ball.
The night will be similar to every annual ball, with tunes such as the Balmoral Blues, the Foxtrot, the Alpha Waltz and the Evening Three Step.
Sashes will be awarded to the ‘Lady of the Evening’ and the ‘Beau of the Ball’.
Mrs Miles recalls that when she was young dancers were judged not necessarily on their appearance, but on their overall deportment. Grooming, dress, presentation and even sociability were all assessed when awarding sashes.
For those who are a bit past dancing, the club will also hold an afternoon tea in the hall on the Sunday afternoon. They’re hoping to see a few familiar faces, with past dancers encouraged to join.
“It’s a big thing, not just because it’s a dance, but for something to survive for 60 years on a regular basis,” Mr Woods said.