Footlights by Dorothy Snelson

There are the Northern Lights, street- lights, fairy lights and then, there are footlights.

The lure of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd and all that treading of the boards comes to mind.

Are we to hear of someone destined for a theatrical life, I hear you ask? A future film star, a singing sensation or perhaps the next Margot Fonteyn?

Well a most definite NO to that, I fear. The little girl who trod the boards of various Church Halls in and around her native Westhoughton for a brief year in the early 50’s went on to become a rather less glamorous librarian /civil servant.

Bolton may have had its Dinky Dots, but in Westhoughton, we had the renowned Vera Smethurst Dancing Troupe. My mother was not keen on dancing lessons for me, but two of my ‘posh friends’ were enrolled by their more pushy mothers who thought it would be good for their deportment, and eventually she gave in. I had idolised ballet ever since seeing Moira Shearer in Red Shoes at the Rink Picture House when I was four, and thought my dream of twirling in a tutu about to come true.  Unfortunately, this was not to be. The classes each Tuesday at the Parochial Hall taught us tap dancing and I ended up with a pair of red tap shoes instead of ballet shoes. We practised our brush , brush bends and shuffle hop drops until we could do a passable imitation of all those glamorous stars of the dancing movies of the 40’s and 50’s.

Vera was in the business of putting on a show each year, which she presented at numerous church halls in the neighbourhood. Saturday evenings saw us at a different church each week and thus my brief career in front of the footlights began. I was in three of the numbers in the show. We danced and sang to ‘Don’t sit under the Apple Tree’ a hit for the Andrews Sisters in the 40’s and I played the girl to my friend dressed as a boy. We were an all- girl troupe I should add. I appeared again in a very rousing song and dance routine with a Scottish theme which seemed to involve a lot of marching back and forth on and off the stage with a bit  of Scottish dancing thrown in for good measure.

My highlight however was a very sentimental scene in which we sang ‘Underneath the gaslight’s glitter’ posing as the little flower girls of the somewhat mawkish song. We had a tray around our neck to hold the flowers we proffered to unseen passers-by. For this number a long dress was obligatory and I had hopes of getting a lovely new dress in which to star. Mother had other ideas and resurrected the dress I had the previous year when I was a trainbearer at our church’s Rose Queen.

I only toured for one season with Vera when the dance lessons came to an abrupt end in the lead up to taking ‘the scholarship’ for entry to grammar school. Mother deemed that I must spend my time  revising with endless Cotswold Tests,so my time in front of the footlights was brief. It left me with a life- long love of dance however so those one shilling a week dance classes were not wasted. They greatly enhanced my later life.