DFR Faculty 25th Anniversary
11 June 2013
Peggy Spencer MBE, Yvonne Taylor-Hill and Anne Lingard share their memories
As the Disco/Rock ‘n’ Roll anniversary approaches I have many wonderful memories of how it all started and grew. My mind travels back many years to the day when Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta was released and Anne Lingard and I decided that this kind of music and dancing was a must for the future. I saw the film 25 times in order to write down (in a dark cinema) the various dances. I then realised that this message must go to the dancing teachers all over the country.
How to do it? I booked the Hammersmith Palais. I remember wonderful days when more than 500 teachers came in to see and learn from Anne Lingard, Michael Stylianos, Pat Thompson and myself. We were not concerned with society or status, only concerned that this most important Disco message got through. Routines were choreographed to the music of the Bee Gees, all singing along to More Than A Woman and all their other tunes, which were so popular at the time and have remained evergreen. Their music has a wonderful beat, a lovely melody and great harmonies to sing along with. In fact we owe the Bee Gees a debt of gratitude for their inspired musical compositions because without music we cannot have dance.
It was not long before the whole country and every dancing school ran Disco and exercise classes to this lively music from the Bee Gees and also other groups at the time. I then decided, not knowing how long that road was going to be, that it should be included in the Medal Test system and Professional examinations. What a wise move it was, because it has been the salvation of dancing in many dance schools and that era saved our profession from going into stagnation. It has since proven to be, not only lucrative, but educational and a worthy addition to any dance teachers’ programme.
As soon as we, in this country, got to grips with what a wonderful thing we had on our hands, overseas teachers became aware of the excitement and exhilaration of what was happening here, and I was inundated with requests to go and give workshops in Germany, Austria, Norway and Denmark, to name just a few. My colleague, Anne Lingard was also asked to go to many countries to ‘spread the word.’
What we and they all needed was ‘uplift’ for the dancing schools, and this was just ‘it.’ The enthusiasm and thirst for teaching material was absolutely amazing to experience, and the development of teachable Rock ‘n’ Roll for the Under-16s age group also flourished at this time. Children embraced it wholeheartedly, and started to dance competitively.
There were so many children in each class that teachers began to divide them into groups and teams. Some of these teams grew to a very high standard and danced competitively against each other and were an important and accepted part of most competition events.
In the early years, many new and exciting routines were produced. Then later, when the expanded Committee was appointed and we were still being inundated with requests for work, growth continued but in a slightly more sophisticated way. At times, it was quite hard to keep up with the requests for both workshops and classes. This was just the injection that the dancing schools and teachers needed to help revive a slightly jaded situation.
It is interesting to see that many Rock/Disco singers on TV have Disco dance groups backing them. I, myself appeared on Blue Peter many times; I actually taught John Noakes to dance and took him through his Bronze Medal on the programme. Obviously, the idea was to inspire young dancers to have a go themselves. Both Disco and also Rock ‘n’ Roll were an important part of the programme, so youngsters were kept up-to-date with the latest dance routines. Since those days, it is also interesting to note how many television talent competitions have developed from Disco and Rock ‘n’ Roll and how many talented competitors are taking part.
Long may it flourish and grow, and it will, if all those teachers, choreographers, and innovators in our wonderful profession, continue to expand and update their knowledge and pass it on to the up-and-coming generation.
Peggy Spencer MBE
This year, we mark the 25th anniversary of the DFR Faculty. As a Faculty, we have chosen to celebrate and take the date from 1988, which is when the new Disco/Freestyle Committee was formed, however, let us not forget the HUGE amount of work that was undertaken beforehand by the ‘early pioneers’: Peggy Spencer MBE, Sydney Francis and Anne Lingard.
Unfortunately, many records were lost due to a huge flood at the then ISTD head office in Birkenhead. However, whilst talking to Peggy very recently, she reflected on the battles they constantly had, both within the ISTD and the British Dance Council, trying to persuade people that this wonderful dance genre was not just a passing craze. After Saturday Night Fever hit the cinema, it was shortly followed by films such as Thank God It’s Friday, Grease, the weekly television series, Fame and then the fantastic music and dancing of Michael Jackson came on the scene. Disco/Freestyle was very much here to stay and teachers needed help. Thank goodness our pioneers did not give up and continued to break down stubborn barriers, together providing a wonderful shop front.
An Amateur Medal Test syllabus was quickly put together and launched on 1st January 1979, followed shortly after by Associate and also Student Teacher. These qualifications provided a route to entice our hungry pupils to take examinations, thereby making Freestyle more meaningful and worthwhile, both for the dance genre itself and providing a sense of achievement for our pupils.
The ‘Teachers’ Workshop’ formed in 1978, held workshops at Hammersmith Palais, four times each year. Peggy Spencer MBE, Anne Lingard, Michael Stylianos and Pat Thompson choreographed routines suitable for Medal Tests. Guest lecturers in those days, to name but a few were: Arlene Phillips, Bill Drysdale, Nigel Lithgoe, Brian Rogers, Antony Van Last and Yan Yeadon – wonderful choreographers and so very inspiring.
The Medal Test system then provided the passport to the Medallist Festival, Discorama – also organised by the ‘Teachers’ Workshop’. This was a competition event for all Societies, again held at Hammersmith Palais, and included Solos, Pairs and also the Team event, which in those days was run as a knock-out event. The Committee provided the teachers with the music about eight weeks beforehand and then we all danced to the same track, one for the Under-12s and one for the Under-16s. We danced against each other on two floors and the adjudicators, from the balcony above, lifted their blue or red cards.
We are told that the ‘pioneer trio’ worked tirelessly for at least eight years before it was realised the revenue and interest this dance style brought into the Societies. Disco/ Freestyle was, indeed, very much here to stay.
1988 was a significant year. A report, written by Anne Lingard, of the AGM held in 1988 at the end of the Worthing Congress, records that a new Disco/Freestyle Committee was appointed, headed by the original ‘trio’, Peggy Spencer MBE, Sydney Francis and Anne Lingard, plus new members Audrie Andrews, Betty Bouston, Jean Cantell, Margaret Connon, Derek Green, Derek Povey, Pat Toulson and I, joined later by Janet Clark. The intention was to work towards the formation of a Disco/Freestyle Branch. Discussion points would include new ideas for Disco/Freestyle and Rock ‘n’ Roll, to promote a better understanding of what Disco teachers and pupils want, need and expect from the Society, and the development of work at grass roots level. Another indication of progress and recognition was recorded in the same report – Highly Commended Disco/ Freestyle Associates would now be eligible as candidates for the Phyllis Haylor Scholarship.
I remember my first Committee meeting so well. I was the youngest on the Committee and remember I was so thrilled, delighted and honoured to be given the opportunity of adding my contribution to the future success of what was to eventually become a democratically elected Faculty. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be Chairman, a post I have held proudly for 17 years now.
The new Committee soon set about achieving tasks and projects: the Set Line Dance and Area Competitions, the Licentiate syllabus, followed soon after by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Amateur and Professional syllabi. With the acceptance of Rock ‘n’ Roll, the Committee was renamed the Disco/ Freestyle/Rock ‘n’ Roll Branch in 1990 (see the book 100 Years of Dance). Then as a prerequisite of becoming an elected Committee, the Disco/ Freestyle Fellowship was formulated and a new Committee was appointed, later renamed the Disco/Freestyle/Rock ‘n’ Roll Faculty in 1995, along with all other Branches. Other dance genres have since come on board. Country and Western and very recently Street Dance and Commercial Hip Hop are also under the DFR Faculty umbrella. With these, there have been Amateur and Professional examinations and workshops, and many popular competitions, not forgetting two of our annual flagship events, the Imperial Championship for open registered competitors and the DFR Grand Finals Day.
When I was elected as Chairman in 1993, in awe of my predecessors and with an almost new Committee to steer (only Jean Cantell and Betty Bouston stood from the original invited Committee), I could only vow to do one thing: to do my best and continue to steer our Faculty (affectionately known as the Titanic) forward in the way I thought the pioneers, Peggy, Sydney and Anne would have wanted. We are, and will always be indebted to you all, for your foresight, your drive, your spirit and determination in recognising the opportunities there were and are in the world of Disco/ Freestyle dance and all other genres under our Faculty’s umbrella.
Yvonne Taylor-Hill, DFR Faculty Chairman
The beginnings of DFR Faculty Committee
The Committee was finally created as a ‘Steering’ (by invitation) Committee in the 1980s, following a sustained campaign over a period of a few years by those of us who had been developing this form of dance in the Teachers’ Workshop, in the aftermath of the boom following Saturday Night Fever and other popular films in 1978–9 and into the 1980s.
Peggy Spencer MBE, Sydney Francis and I had been successful in late 1978 in persuading the Society to allow the introduction of Disco Medal Tests launched on 1st January 1979. Eventually, the Committee members, of what is now the Dancesport Faculties’ Board, realised that the large income and increasing standards to Gold Star level of the Disco Medal Tests were of the quality of dance for which the ISTD is so renowned. The then Chairman, Bill Irvine MBE, was thoroughly in favour of the promotion to eventual Faculty status and invited us to run the first Associate examiners’ seminar at his studio.
Our teachers were demanding the ability to become qualified – a service already being offered by other teachers’ bodies in the country. We were in danger of losing them, so work started on the production of an Associate syllabus. We were all concerned with ‘safety in teaching’, because even at this early stage, injuries had been sustained. We enlisted the services of Peggy Thresh, my physiotherapist, and she wrote the section on anatomy of that first syllabus.
The joint Chairmen of the new Steering Committee were Peggy Spencer MBE, Sydney Francis and myself, and the new Committee members were invited from the teachers who were entering the best quality, as well as quantity, of Medallist candidates.
As soon as the Committee started to meet, work continued on the Professional syllabi. We went on to produce the Licentiate and finally the Fellowship syllabi in Disco/Freestyle – the latter being a necessity before it was possible, in those days, for a new Faculty to be created. We also had produced a syllabus in Rock ’n’ Roll by that time and introduced it as a ‘one dance’ Professional examination at the usual levels, as there were a number of teachers who earned their living at that time solely from Rock ’n’ Roll.
The ISTD Medallist competitions started regionally, although at first there was not a Finals event – this followed at a later date.
So then it was time in the early 1990s for an elected Committee to be introduced and it is wonderful to watch the continued success which the Faculty is enjoying. Due, in no short measure, to the work of the present Committee as well as those who worked in those early days, especially Jean Cantell and Janet Clark, together with the other members of that first ‘Steering’ Committee, Audrie Andrews, Margaret Connon, Derek Green, Derek Povey, Yvonne Taylor-Hill, Pamela Toulson and, fondly remembered, Betty Bouston.