Dancers on the move after 20 years

Eric and Lesley Bland at Blackhall Community Centre.
Eric and Lesley Bland at Blackhall Community Centre.

POPULAR dancing sessions are moving to a new home after more than 20 years in their current venue.

The sequence dancing that has been held at Blackhall Community Centre, in Hesleden Road, since the early 1990s will move to Horden’s new Centennial Centre in the new year.

The last twinkle-toed pairs are due to take to the dancefloor at the Blackhall venue at 7.30pm on Saturday, December 28.

Hartlepool couple Eric and Lesley Bland, both 77, have been heavily involved in the sessions since the beginning.

Retired railway worker Eric, who ended his career working as a signalman at Hartlepool Steelworks, started dancing when he was just eight years old.

He met Lesley, a former dental nurse who went to work with disabled children, on a blind date on New Year’s Eve in 1954. And after Eric returned from service, the pair took up dancing.

Eric says when the sessions first started, a record player was used to provide the music.

It was only four years ago that members began using a CD player to dance to.

“It’s much easier now, you don’t have to listen through the tracks, and you don’t have to put the needle on the record,” says Eric, from Hart Station.

Though Eric still dances, he spends much of his time on the stage playing the music, leaving his wife to dance with any of a range of partners.

“She gets dances from anybody,” laughed Eric.

When the sessions first started at Blackhall, there were 170 dancers.

“They used to be knocking on the door at 6.30pm to get in and we didn’t start til 7.30pm,” remembers Eric, who says what he enjoys most about dancing is “seeing people enjoying themselves”.

The grandfather-of-five and great-granddad-of-one added: “Even if you make a mistake, everybody enjoys laughing at you, but really they are laughing with you.”

Now there are about 75, aged from their 30s to 80s, with Eric saying numbers dropped off following the introduction of other hobbies.

The dance club has been running independently at the centre for two years, but prior to that was run by the centre itself.

The contract with the centre has not been renewed, and centre manager Alison Paterson says she is sorry to see the dancers go.

But Eric, who is dad to Beverley Woodward and Colin Bland, says dancers are looking forward to moving to the new venue, at the former St Mary’s Hall, in Blackhills Road, Horden.

The venue has been developed thanks to a £469,779 Big Lottery Reaching Communities grant.

Country and Western dancing will still run at Blackhall Community Centre, on the first Friday of the month from 7.30pm, with the next session on January 3.

The new sessions at the Centennial Centre start at 7.30pm on Saturday, January 11, and new members are welcome.

To find out more, call Eric on (01429) 280834.