Long before its culture city days, Glasgow was the dancing capital of Britain. Sue Wilson quicksteps back in time at Springburn Museum.
Glasgow has had a reputation for many
things. but during the inter-war years it was perhaps best known for being ‘dancing daft' with the city boasting more dance halls per head of population than anywhere else in Britain. The craze is remembered in the current exhibition at Springburn where. as in the rest ofGlasgow. people regularly went out dancing several times a week. The exhibition consists of photographs of bands and dancers. text boards with quotes from
T Springburn residents recalling their dancing days
and memorabilia such as records. dresses. dance programmes and magazines.
Dance halls are remembered by one ex-band member as providing ‘an escape. . . Glasgow at that time was a grey. smoky. dirty town. and these
5 places were glamorous. brightly painted. with
i subdued lighting and a big ball in the middle
reflecting light right round the hall.‘ As well as the major central venues the many smaller. local halls were also popular. with music provided by local bands. semi-professionals who worked on the railways during the day. Springburn favourites included Pete and his ('rackerjacks. the Rhythm Aces and Harry Gold and his Pieces of Eight. The apparent number of bands was actually somewhat illusory: musicians were earning on the side. so would change the band's name whenever they thought the tax man was hot on their trail. Dancing. of course. was a popular way for the
sexes to meet: at one stage. for instance. there was
known to be a superfluity ofwomen in Kirkintilloch. so Springburn men organised special buses to take them there. The men might have initiated the pursuit. but women had their
own tactics in the mating game. lfa man was a
poor dancer. his partner would smudge face
powder on the back of his jacket — the ‘mark of
Cain' — to warn off others. Some venues were very wary about mixed dancing — at the YWCA. for instance. to get in to a mixed dance you had to prove you had attended church the previous Sunday.
Since few halls were licensed. the social whirl involved relatively little drinking. although ifyou
were determined you could sneak a bottle in — men were usually frisked at the door but women
: weren’t. and many a handbag concealed a
I carry-out. In any case. lack of alcohol was no bar
to enjoyment. as one ex-dancer recalls. ‘It cost 1/6
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Mr and Mrs Clayton at Metro Vickers' work dance 1959 on a Saturday night. and you got a cup of tea and a cake and a sandwich. and dancing to maybe 11.30. and then you maybe got a couple of fights round the back.‘
The current exhibition continues a theme of leisure activities. following the museum’s display on Springburn cinemas last year. The emphasis is on how wider social trends affected local people. part ofa methodology which led to Springburn's winning the title of Best Social and Industrial Museum in 1989. 'I see our role as being to involve
the community as far as possible in what we’re doing and make them feel its relevant.‘ explains curator Alison Cutforth. 'ldeas for exhibitions very much come from the local community. and we try and cover local events which are happening. | We‘re also trying at the moment to set up projects 1 with disabled groups in the area. working towards |
an exhibition later in the year. which I hope will be a platform used by the groups to communicate issues they feel affect them to the wider Springburn community.‘ This approach appears to be working well - the museum was impressiver busy for 111.31) on a Tuesday morning — although it can bring problems unlikely to be encountered by more formal museums. 'lt can be difficult keeping things at a manageable |evel.' admits Alison Cutforth. ‘Once people regard you as their museum. they start using you as a general information resource. which can get very time-consuming — we once had someone come in and ask where you can get sniffer dogs from .'
Glancing .4! Dancing runst1!.8';n'ingburn .llust'um until Sunday I l A ugusl.
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