Finding love on the dance floor in 1950s Norwich
Shall we dance? The moving story of how Mike and Bridget fell in love at the Norman School of Dancing.
Recent stories and pictures of life at the Norman School of Dancing have rekindled many memories. This is a love story told in the words of Mike Wooldridge, a boy growing up in 1950s Norwich:
My surrogate mother, dear Auntie Alice, came home from work and asked me if I would like to go dancing. I said yes – with some reservations.
To go dancing requires one main ingredient – girls! I was terrified of girls. The thought of asking a girl to dance filled me with fear, however, auntie said she had a workmate who went to the Norman School of dancing on All Saints Green.
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I was to meet her workmate, Moya, to register for dancing lessons. This I did and it soon became apparent that my fears were unfounded.
Nancy and Peter Norman held lessons several days a week, with Saturday night being free dancing night. Peter would step on to the dance floor and declare: 'Come along now, gentlemen in a row on the right, girls on the left.'
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Great, that was the first hurdle over with. I did not have to ask for a dance. Peter had done all the donkey work for me.
Saturday night was a dream, lights down low, music from the record player, shoulder to shoulder with hardly any room to move on the bouncing floor.
I soon found a pal to go around with, we used to approach the ladies in pairs, we got away with it most of the time. One evening I felt lucky, so I approached a pack of ladies near the record player end of the stairs – may I have this dance? I asked. She told me to get lost. That was it. I vowed that was the last time I would go there. I decided it was time for my evening tipple in the coffee room on the ground floor – a tall glass of lime cordial. I soon got into the routine and could cut quite a dash when the next dance was the quick step.
One Saturday night I was with my pal Patrick Vaughan when we spotted two girls at a loose end at the end of the dance floor. We sauntered over and I approached the one I fancied and Patrick latched on to the other one. He told me after the dance she said her name was Bridget.
The next week we spotted the same girls alone again, this time I was beaten to it by someone else and had to sit that dance out.
While standing on the side I was scanning the dimly lit floor for the girl I fancied the week before only to spot the other one that Patrick called Bridget. She was dancing with a chap who turned out to be her 'steady' at the time I believe, but as she passed me, I could have sworn she winked at me. Second time around she did it again. I never moved so quick for the next dance. I made it and lasted until the end of the night.
If you managed to get the last waltz you usually took the girl home, I didn't.
I collected my coat from the cloakroom and legged it down All Saints Green and on to Castle Meadow. I soon realised that the girl walking a few yards in front of me was Bridget. 'Hello' I said, 'I go this way too'. We got on a number 89 bus and headed towards Magdalen Street.
Bridget got off at Magdalen Gates and I followed her. We walked up Mill Lane and I left her at the back of Beaconsfield Road. I think the year was 1957. I had several girlfriends by this time, much to my amazement.
In November/December, Patrick and I went around together on Sundays, usually for a walk around the city centre on Sunday afternoons. One particular afternoon we searched for Bridget and her friend, naively thinking we could find them, but it turned out Bridget went back to Ireland with her family for the holidays.
Christmas was a special time at Normans and I was so disappointed I could not find her.
After Christmas she turned up and I lost no time in getting acquainted. I began to get the feeling that this girl was somehow different, but I still didn't have the courage to ask for a date, so it was back to Normans the next Saturday.
This time I dived straight in and we danced all night and I happily got the last waltz – It's Almost Tomorrow. I took her home officially for the first time and the back gate was duly christened.
We were married on February 27 1960 and had two daughters, Louise and Alison. Our marriage lasted almost 41 years until Bridget's death in November 2000.
Whenever I play the record by the Dream Weavers, It's Almost Tomorrow, it brings back so many happy memories. Thank you Nancy and Peter.
And thank you Mike for sharing your memories.