All that shimmers and shines: 25 years of the Norfolk Island Ballroom Dancing Festival
For 25 years, the long nights of June on this paradisal isle have shimmered in the reflective light of sequins and silk. Ballroom enthusiasts from across Australia and New Zealand joined local dancers again this year for a whirlwind week of fun and frivolity on Norfolk Island, where a South Pacific holiday and social ballroom dancing are perfectly presented by the Norfolk Island Ballroom Dancing Committee.
Back in 1996, while much of the world was in a fever head-spin of breakdance, Ballroom dancing was still a Monday night institution on Norfolk. It was that February, while on a visit to the Island that Jan Lawrence and her husband Pete met local dancers Ann Snell, Ricky Quintal and Joe Adams (to name a few). Seeing an opportunity to connect with a likeminded community, Jan made arrangements to book a hall and provide three lessons during her holiday – Pete made the most of it, golfing and fishing while the dancing was on.
Jan also identified a need for new music, which was not easy to get on Norfolk at the time, and after returning home sent a care package to Ricky bursting with tapes to use at the weekly dances. Ricky spoke with other local dancers and the idea was floated for a new week-long ballroom dance festival for both Norfolk Islanders and visiting dancers to participate in. After obtaining support from Jan and her friend Tanya Kershaw to teach classes at the event, a committee was formed to plan a festival for June 1997. Jan remembers landing with bags bulging with dresses, CDs and a CD player – enabling her to alter the timing of the music to suit the different dance styles.
Sunday 15 June 1997 marked the inaugural event, with an impressive 60 people in attendance. This included dancers from all over Australia, as well as visitors from New Zealand, who had been encouraged to travel for the festival by Kiwi couple Gaye and Neville Hazelwood – and their promotions didn’t end there! A fond memory of many from that week was the sight of the pair parading up and down Burnt Pine in their competition ball gown and tails, selling tickets to interested locals and tourists alike. Beginner lessons were held at night so everyone could take part, whatever their ability levels and local businesses also got involved, donating items for lucky door prizes and raffles which were drawn each night of the festival.
Another memory from this first festival is that some participants had underestimated the impact a week of intensive dancing – which included workshops in the morning and afternoon, followed by an evening social dance – would have, and many recall the long queue at the local hospital of people lining up for cortisone injections for their knees and joints! Subsequent years have seen a more sensibly reduced program of dancing replaced by sightseeing, shopping, and other activities so that participants can experience everything that the Island has to offer. The Norfolk Island Travel Centre came on-board in 1998 as the major event sponsor providing financial support for instructor travel costs, dance prizes, to market the event to a wider audience and to assist participants in booking their travel packages.
For travellers who would like to experience and learn the latest routines taken from the previous year’s winning England Inventive Sequence Dances, this is a must-do event. The daily workshops in recent years have included styles such as the Moonstone Saunter, Latin Rumba, Midwinter Waltz, Aussie Cha Cha, Crossfire Tango and Modern Quickstep. These are then presented at the evening dance review. A final show of glitz and glamour is The Supper Ball – the last night’s formal affair where Certificates of Achievement are awarded as well that year’s special awards, such as ‘Best Swing Waltz Couple’.
Other festival highlights for many participants are the themed social nights. Beginning in 2004 with an Island-theme night, 2005 saw the first of an extravaganza of Christmas-themed costumes which has snowballed each year. The Bounty Centre toy store, and local op shop are plundered for items to make each participant’s outfit bigger and better, with awards given for ‘Best Male Costume’, ‘Best Female Costume’ and ‘Best Couple Costume’ – a hotly contended honour!
The true success of the festival though, comes from the dedication of the local organising committee and Jan and Tanya, who put in countless hours to ensure the event runs smoothly each year. Special mention should also be made of some of the other Kiwis who have supported the festival over the years, such as Phil and Anne McKay who travelled for every festival between 1997 and 2016, only missing one year because they were snowed in and unable to leave their home in Ashburton. They are remembered particularly for the lovely chocolates hand-made by Anne for prizes. Fred and Lyn Hassall, Murray Melville, and Karen and Leo Walters were always willing to lend a hand in the festival organising too.
With such a strong history, the Norfolk Island Ballroom Dancing festival is one to tick off the bucket-list. Participants will find a fun filled, friendly and very intimate week awaits, with ‘social’ at the heart of all things. While many attendees return regularly each year to catch up with old friends, first time dancers are always warmly welcomed.
Those wishing to attend in 2022 should act quickly, as this historically sell-out event has only 80 spots available for the full workshop program. So get in quick now to secure your spot!
Norfolk Island Travel Centre is a long-term major sponsor of this event and have put together an exclusive holiday package for this event. For more information, contact the friendly team on 1800 1400 66 or email email@example.com.
Image Credit: Royalty Free Image
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 05 Issue 01, 2021. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.