School PE: Football, Cross Country, Rugby, Tennis, Athletics, Basketball … So where did the Ballroom Dancing fit in?

One of the most hated aspects of the P.E. curriculum at St. Wilfrid’s my middle school, was the dancing. Learning, with a partner of the opposite sex to do the ‘Gay Gordons’ or a ‘Dashing Sargeant’

In the winter; possibly because it was too wet and cold to do anything else or posssibly just because sadistic PE staff wanted to embarrass the fuck out of us, we had to do so many lessons of Ballroom Dancing

Now before you get all dewy-eyed with mental pictures of Artem, Flavia and Aliona, beautiful costumes, sequins and the wigs of TVs ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ We are in a totally different situation:

Imagine the humiliation.

Boys and girls, as if it were not enough to be thrown headlong into the maelstrom of adolescence, already (with the exception of a lucky few) despairing of their body image, being forced to dance with each other, in the smelly school hall! The boys in their house rugby tops/shorts (Southworth, Arrowsmith, Rigby and Dumbledore) Clothing, that in most cases had lain undisturbed at the bottom of their bag since the previous week, if not the start of term. They line up to be paired off with the girls, God love ‘em who were forced to wear their leotards.

I can’t imagine a more sphincter–clenching embarrassment. Boys in my year ranged from 6 footers, with such dark 5 0’ clock shadows they had to shave twice a day, smoked twenty fags a day, had gruff, deep voices and probably joined their Dads down at the Club of an evening for a few pints – to those who looked like they would be much more at home, playing with lego and the Hornby train set. As for the girls… well, I can’t think of a more cruel exposure of one’s pysical attributes than a black nylon leotard. It was perfectly obvious to one and all who’s ‘equipment had arrived’ and who was still deperately waiting to take delivery.  Mind you, with or without ‘equipment’ it was a complete mystery to me how girls at around this time went from being uncomplicated friends, our best winger out on the playground, to wearing blue eyeshadow and eyeliner that appeared to have been applied by an epileptic monkey, writing ‘David Cassidy’ on every object they owned and becoming a Mormons because they ‘liked Donny Osmond’.

Still, it was the ‘70s and this is what was presented to us as our PE experience for this particular series of lessons. God knows why. Perhaps it was thought we ought to be prepared should someone out of the blue ask you to do a Gay Gordon with them. (With the benefit of hindsight that’s one club I would be wanting to make a very hasty exit from)

So! the first dance. Girls chattering nervously or standing mute in terror, the purple veins on their legs looking like maps of Britain’s inland waterways. The boys behaving like idiots; the more aware hoping that they get someone who has had a visit from UPS and that they can avoid the one with the impetigo and warts.

There is nothing quite like wrapping your hand around clammy fingers which feel like they are covered in Rice Krispies, still a vivid indigo from the wart stuff the nurse puts on them, the white ‘burnt’ bits showing round the edges. The leotard has a stiff sandpapery feel as you gingerly place your hand on the small of your partner’s back.

And we are off.

This it wasn't

This it wasn’t

“Not-Like-That-Daly, Get hold of her Lad. You some sort of Puff or what?” shouts our PE teacher who to save his blushes, (for I gather he still roams the streets of Whitworth, Rochdale minus the ‘70s sideburns I hope) I shall simply refer to as ‘Sir’ Whereupon, he snatches the poor girl out of my hand  and wheels around the floor with her, feet off the floor, her head bobbing from side to side like a rag doll. Meanwhile, Sir’s nylon tracksuit bottoms and money belt threaten to fall down at any moment.

“That’s how you do it” he laughs as the poor girl is unceremoniously dumped back in front of me.

Can you imagine this happening in school these days?

For those of you who may be interested. This is how the ‘Gay Gordons’ goes.



1-2 Right hands joined over lady’s   shoulder (man’s arm behind her back) and left hands joined in front, walk   forward for four steps, starting on the right foot.
3-4 Still moving in the same   direction, and without letting go, pivot on the spot (so left hand is behind   lady and right hand is in front) and take four steps backwards.
5-8 Repeat in the opposite   direction.
9-12 Drop left hands, raise right   hands above lady’s head. Lady pivots on the spot. (The man may set).
13-16 Joining hands in ballroom hold,   polka round the room

17        Ad Lib (Ad Lib?)

Dreadful, dahling, just dreadful ...

Dreadful, dahling, just dreadful …

Affectionately dedicated to all my dance partners over the years.

© Andy Daly 2013


  1. I don,t remember those classes,but I love the Waltz, polka, quick step in fact all ballroom dancing. It would be nice if they taught those lesson but I cannot imagine the youth of today taking to it. They like to shake their bodies every part that will shake and call that dancing. No Rhyme nor reason to it.

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