Friday, October 15, 2010

The Rivoli Ballroom: the kitsch and the glamorous

In the mid-1990s, Helen Thomas and Nicola Miller, two dance researchers from Goldsmiths, undertook a research study into ballroom dancing and tea dances at the Rivoli Ballroom in Brockley. It includes some interesting historical material about the place, stating that the building that is now the Rivoli was originally 'a purpose-built 600-seater cinema, which opened in 1913 as the Crofton Park Picture Palace'. Renamed the Rivoli in 1929, it 'closed its doors as a cinema in 1957. It became a dance-hall in 1960 and subsequently for several years, like a large number of old cinemas, it became a bingo-hall, with dancing on Tuesday and Saturday evenings. In 1970 it closed for refurbishment, and two and a half years later it was reopened as a dedicated ballroom'.

There is also some very evocative description:

'The decor of the ballroom is fashioned on the lines of the grand Viennese ballrooms of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the 1920s, the newly-created palais de danse, such as the Hammersmith Palais, which opened its doors in 1919, aimed to cater for the urban working classes who wanted dance in the new styles, but could not afford to frequent the exclusive West-end hotels and restaurants where their more wealthy peers danced. With their large halls and spacious, sprung floors to dance on, to the sounds of the latest music played by full live bands, the palais were designed to give the appearance of luxury and grandeur for the pleasure of the working classes that had formerly been reserved for those higher up the social scale. The Rivoli Ballroom evokes the earlier past of the great balls and the more recent 'retro' style of the palais de danse...

The walls of the hall are lined with red velour, with patterned panels encrusted with diamente and gold-painted wood-panelling. There are 200 wall-lights which highlight the opulent appearance of the red and gold. The tables and the red velvet seating are set around the edge of the sprung maple dance-floor, with two revolving glitter balls, three large chandeliers and numerous smaller ones hanging down from the ceiling. There is a raised stage across the breadth of the far end of the hall, large enough to take a small dance band, complete with sound system and a large selection of dance records. There are two bars, a rather sumptuous 1960s one with gold flock wallpaper and matching upholstered seating, and a more everyday bar/buffer reminiscent of a 1950s ice-cream parlour, with booth seats...

Stepping into the ballroom at the Rivoli on a Sunday afternoon when the competition is in full swing proved to be a fascinating and bewildering experience. To begin with, the sight of the lavish, yet mannered, styling of the contestants as they swished effortlessly across the floor doing their set pieces, bathed in the light of the chandeliers, and set against the backdrop of the red and gold decor, with onlookers dressed in ordinary clothes, and other contestants in their ballroom best, standing or sitting around the edge of the floor, was so other-worldly that it seemed as if we had been dropped into a period film-set designed to exude the kitsch and the glamorous in the same instant'.

Ballroom Blitz by Helen Thomas and Nicola Miller is published in Dance in the City, edited by Helen Thomas (Pallgrave Macmillan, 1997) .

1 comment:

Jude Cowan said...

sounds a good book and Brockley is now even more glamorous - drove through it this morning on my way to work and thought how salubrious it was ...