Shall we dance?

Shall we dance?

Reflections on dating in the 'good old days'

The words ‘Shall we dance?’ evoke fond memories of dances held at the Rivoli dance hall, Parramatta, many years ago. Not that I can remember those actual words being said by a prospective dance partner though. After all, we were westies, and ‘Shall we dance’ was probably more suited to the North Shore. The invitation to dance was more likely to be ‘Wanna dance?’ or just an indistinct mutter. The more confident and better looking boys could get away with an extended hand accompanied by a smile and a slight nod of the head towards the dance floor.

Dancing was the way to meet boys in the ‘good old days’ and many of us met our future husbands at the ‘Riv’. It was the place to go on Saturday nights. There was ten o’clock closing in those days and the majority of the young lads only turned up at the dance after the pub closed and when they’d had their courage bolstered by a few beers. The smart ones of course went to the dance early as they then had their pick of the girls.

‘Nice’ girls didn’t go to the pub, or if they did it was only to the Beer Garden where they decorously drank a Pyms No.One, or something equally sophisticated like Advocaat and Cherry Brandy.

As is the case nowadays, the Australian custom of separation of the sexes at any kind of gathering, also applied in those days. The boys congregated on one side of the large dance hall, while the girls huddled together on the opposite side of the room—the boys retreating hurriedly to the safety of their mates at the end of each dance. Only towards the end of the night was there intermingling of the genders — by this time the boys had decided who they would like to escort home from the dance and were endeavouring to find out if the attraction was reciprocated.

The barn dance was always the most popular dance of the night. There was just enough time for two questions, before moving on to the next partner. These were —

‘Do you come here often?’ and ‘Where do you live?’

As very few boys had cars, it was imperative that they first find out where you lived before asking to take you home. The expression GI girl meant that you were ‘geographically impossible’. This meant that you lived too far away and that transport was too difficult, there being no public transport after midnight in the western suburbs of Sydney. After depositing you safely at home and possibly arranging a date for the following Saturday night, the prospective suitor often had to walk miles to get home or in some cases, sleep on the railway station until the morning train. There had to be quite a strong attraction for them to go to so much trouble—courting was definitely not for the faint hearted!


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