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When we all did ballroom blitz; Emma Pinch on the original Come Dancing craze: Conniewas our dancingqueen.

STRICTLY Come Dancing on BBC1 has propelled a stampede of armchair foxtrot fans in the direction of the dance floor. It's a phenomenon that many twinkle-toed viewers have seen before. Eric Morley's original show, Come Dancing, was created in 1949 to teach the public all about the joy of dancing. In its early years Come Dancing was broadcast from amateur dance events held around the country. Professional dancers Syd Perkins and Edna Duffield taught the moves to viewers. It wasn't until 1953 that the show concentrated on the competition element, with couples from all over the UK competing for the coveted Come Dancing trophy. Queen of the dancing scene in Liverpool at that time was Connie Millington, who opened a dance academy in Merton Road, Bootle in 1943. It turned out generations of fleet-footed dancers. The school was continued by her grandson Derek. "She was renowned for her formation teams, which often represented the North West on BBC's Come Dancing," recalls Derek. "Connie started dancing in an era when there was no television, but people like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were big film stars. As a result, people flocked to dance halls around the country.

The magnets were places like the Grafton in Liverpool, the Ritz in Manchester and all the Locarnos, which became Top Rank suites." In Connie's day it was strictly ballroom, but soon Latin- American dancing set the public's imagination on fire with its sultry rhythms and close clinches. Dance halls like the Grafton, the Rialto and the Locarno were places where you could aspire to some of the glamour of your favourite film or singing stars, and find romance. Liverpool's dance halls were regularly beamed across the land when Come Dancing came to film the inter-regional dance-offs. Regular faces on the show were from the Liverpool Formation Dancing Team from the Billy Martin School as well as Constance Millington's team, who also featured in Victor Sylvester's Dancing Club. Billy Martin was the non-dancing captain of the North West team which also included amateur dance couple George Coad, from Lydiate and Maghull's Patricia Thompson. By 1960 Pat was just 18, holder of myriad championships for ballroom dancing and in the British International team and the reigning Ballroom Queen of Great Britain. But the real stars of Come Dancing were the dancers and amazing costumes. Sequins and feathers were where it was at. The girls at the Grafton and the Locarno echoed their elegance. During the 1950s, the development of man-made fibres, efficient factory production methods and an increase in ready-to-wear outfits meant that clothing became more affordable. Everyone could now buy mass produced copies of the latest trends from the fashion houses of Paris or London. The preferred female shape was curvy with wasp waists and wide skirts over many underskirts. Connie would probably raise an eyebrow at the costumes on today's version, but she'd no doubt approve of the passion it has re-awoken for the m


DOING THE GRAFTON GROOVE: Constance Millington's private dancing academy at the Grafton in the 1950s DYNAMIC DUO: George Coad and Patricia Thompson on their way to victory in the 1966 world ballroom dancing championships DANCING DESTINATION: The Majestic ballroom Picture: Roger Shone WINNERS: Britain's amateur ballroom dancing team, who competed against Denmark after a successful audition at the Grafton ALL DRESSED UP: The Constance Millington formation team
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 3, 2009
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