Dancing lessons


While the streets are being dug up with a variety of cables being introduced or taken out, I remember taken dancing lessons. I don’t know why. Perhaps all those entangled entwined cables are the reason. Who knows? The subconscious does more than we are willing to give credit for.

It was many years ago. I was still normal, in my teens, and wanted to get in touch with women, even touch women. It was also a period when, historically, the country was being flooded by single men. They also wanted to meet and touch women. The reason for this flood of so many single men was migration from Europe and giant public works in Australia that needed brute male strength.

Cane cutting up north in Queensland and giant mines everywhere seemed to attract mainly men from Italy and Greece. Perhaps it was the heat. The Snowy Mountains with the damming of the Snowy Mountain river called for men able to stand cold, so, men from Finland and the Baltic countries flocked there. In any case, there was a copious number of single men and a dearth of women.

Things were grim for men, but, and rightly so, there were many glorious opportunities for girls. Women had the pick of good shiny dark haired Dean Martin Southern European looking men, albeit often a bit dishevelled from cane cutting or the blond giant Thors from Northern sword flashing Viking countries.

In Sydney, a desperately lonely male had white washed on an overhead railway bridge at Glebe in 1962, “Australia is a country of men with no women”. How sad an indictment of an immigration policy. However, dancing academies were flourishing. Many knew how to make a quid from misery already then.

Of course I was subject to this female drought as well. Worse, I wasn’t anywhere in the league of swarthy, dark haired Dean Martin Italians or a Zorba, nor had the sword flashing mien of the blond Viking. I wore glasses and a big nose. But, what I did have… was a Ford V8 (with a single chrome spinner) and leather seats with inbuilt ash trays. It was a light blue in colour and the rust in the mudguards was well hidden with metal putty and hand painted over.

I had nothing to lose and a lot to gain. I bought a complete booklet of tickets to Phyllis Bate’s dancing academy in Pitt Street. It cost a months wages but if that helped me to ensure a touch with a lovely soft yielding female, the heck with frugality.

We know that in the English speaking world, sometimes words such as ‘academy’ or ‘accredited’ are a bit, well…freely used. Phyllis Bate’s academy was a bit stretched for claiming ‘academy’ when on arrival the hall above a milk-bar was full, not of girls but of European males. I had already bought a years supply of weekly dancing lessons. So, what to do. I was crestfallen. It was too late for a re-fund.

Fortunately the dancing steps for beginners were already painted in black on the wooden floor. “Try to get in the rhythm of the music and follow the black steps on the floor”, I was told. “You’ll learn the Foxtrot pretty quickly”. I was totally floored by that. Dance by myself? That’s what I had been doing since arrival.

Even so, I tried feebly to follow the steps but the teacher (a woman) thought I was showing less than enthusiasm. “Try put more feeling in the steps’, she offered. “Don’t look at those painted steps”, “imagine a partner”. “Next time we will try a Cha,Cha,cha”. I wanted more than an ‘imagine a partner.’ It was so lacking in substance especially soft-ness.

Next week, there were a few girls as well. The Dean Martins soon were swirling around with a lot more gusto than I was doing a solitary Cha Cha cha. The teacher came up to me and offered to be my partner, just when I had resigned to have another dancing session following black painted steps. She said that she would hold a book between her chest and mine. I had to be careful not to let it fall on the floor. It was going to be the fox trot.

When the music started, it was a quick snappy version of ‘tulips of Amsterdam.’ I was most diligent not to let the book fall and managed to stay fairly upright pressing against a real woman. The book had the title ‘Of Human Bondage’ which I had read.

It was all a long time ago. I also had a Ford V8.

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13 Responses to “Dancing lessons”

  1. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    More smiles at your story. It’s great that the book was Of Human Bondage – presumably by chance. Do you know the work of Beryl Cook? For some reason the painting reminded me of her work – Tango Busking, for instance.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      No, I did not know Beryl Cook’s work but have looked up her work. Her painting seem to include rotund figures unless there are more Beryl cooks.
      I took this picture on dancing from Google images. The more smiles the better!


  2. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Gerard you are too funny. I had a good laugh in several spots of this post. A good car usually offers a bit of solace and I’m so glad it was a V8 Ford. 🙂


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      It was my first car. It cost 220 Australian pounds. In those days we still had the imperial currency which was changed to $ s in 1965.So glad it made you laugh. Thanks for the compliment!


      • Steve Gingold Says:

        A lot younger I think not, Gerard (65). But I do think the story I heard was a bit off I am sure as you were there living the good life. Probably just someone who wanted me out of town.
        You forgot to mention that your Peugeot has a footrest. 🙂


  3. Steve Gingold Says:

    I remember during my college years tales of the good life to be had in Australia. But one tale was just the opposite..many women and few men. How stories are twisted it seems.
    I never really learned to dance, much to my wife’s dismay, and was awkward with the ladies. But having a car was always a leg up on the competition…until they had one too.


  4. gerard oosterman Says:

    More women than men? When was that. You must be a lot younger. Where did the men go?
    I have yet to own a new car. At present a 2008 Peugeot diesel 407, lovely to drive.


  5. Steve Gingold Says:

    OK, that is odd that my reply ended up with yours to Yvonne.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      The competition must have been fierce. In those days it did help to let it be known one had ‘wheels’. Earlier to the V8, I had a Lambretta scooter but that did not cut the butter at the Trocadero in George Street. Of course, a clever use of ‘personality’ might overcome lack of wheels, but I wasn’t in that league either. So, 4 wheels was a reasonable compromise.
      Friday was always ‘curler day’. The girls would don them in order to have a bee-hive of lovely flowing hair. Even in trains it was common to see lovely women going about in curlers


  6. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    Dr. Advice had a blue ’36 Ford coup. Pretty classy car with pipes and I don/’t know what all. It looked very smart parked in front of my house when I was 16!


  7. Charlotte Hoather Says:

    He he he
    My brother takes a lot of joshing when his friends found out he was ballroom dancing but he’s the one with all the good looking girls on his arm 😉


  8. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Hilary is right, you must look out the work of Beryl Cook, I think you will like her amusing take on life. I really enjoyed this post, Gerard. It made me laugh and reminded me of the dancing lessons of my youth except that we were fortunate in that the ratio of boys/girls was 50/50. That said, I always seemed to end up with the spotty boy, or the one with smelling like the bottom of a ferrets cage. There are a few things that I miss about youth, but dancing lessons is not one of them! 🙂


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