Men in fancy dressStrictly fever is back and here at the British Red Cross, we love a bit of ballroom dancing. In fact, we’ve seen people hit the dance floor for over a century. From fundraising balls to hairy fairies and prisoner of war performances, join us for a waltz through the archives.

“Ballet Nonsense”

Our records show that many prisoners of war and internees turned to dance when they needed a little light entertainment. Many used their Red Cross food parcels to create props and costumes.

In 1942, prisoners of war in Italy decided to put on a show.

“Enterprising inmates of the large camp at Sulmona gave a fancy dress dance at the end of July. First prize went to an Auxiliary Territorial Service ‘girl’ and another went to a ‘deep sea diver’. Group prizes were awarded to ‘The Zulus’ and ‘The Chain Gang’ and other notable dancers included ‘Cleopatra’, ‘Long John Silver’ and ‘Winston Churchill.’

Men put on a dance showMeanwhile, at Oflag VIB camp in Germany, the British prisoners “produced a magnificent variety show called ‘Ballet Nonsense’. It included five fairies who, in spite of moustaches and other ‘masculine disadvantages,’ gave a ballet, clad in paper dresses and rehearsed by a French ballet master.”

At home, the British Red Cross nurses used dance to help injured servicemen recuperate. Dance steps helped to build strength and confidence in their patients.

Red Cross nurses dance with their patients

Ballroom dancing saves lives

Dance has often been a source of fundraising for the charity. In 1914, in Cawsand, Cornwall, “a most successful entertainment” was held in the schoolroom as children performed Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

“Prettily scened and delightfully acted”, the play was followed by a “pretty dance, charmingly and gracefully performed”.

In 1948, Catherine Wells agreed to host a fundraising dance at Mansion House, London, “although one knew it would be a considerable upheaval for the staff and ourselves. It mean several days of preparation and much hard work, both by day and by night, for some 48 hours.”

More than 800 guests danced the night away to the sounds of Lew Stone and his band. A 400-year-old Swiss folk group “gave their most colourful performance consisting of Country Life dances, yodling, flag swinging and marches.”

Guests at the Red Cross nurses' fundraising ball, 1925

Red Cross nurses’ fundraising ball, 1925

Modern marathon for Vietnam

In 1975, Albert Harding managed a world-record-breaking modern dance marathon. He raised nearly £500 for the Red Cross Vietnam appeal, fuelled only by passion for the cause – and the odd cup of tea.

With only five minutes of rest allowed every hour, Albert danced for an incredible 114 hours, 12 and a half minutes. He beat the previous record by six hours.

Dancer Albert Harding enjoys a well earned cup of tea

Dancer Albert Harding enjoys a well earned cup of tea

The Red Cross broke more world records at a fundraising ball in 2002 with ‘Desperate and Dateless’. This was the largest ever blind date, with 150 couples. They beat the previous record of 73. The event was hosted by Graham Norton, and guests hit the dance floor to the sounds of Boney M of 1970s fame.

Dance with us today
  • If you know young people who like to show off their moves, they can take part in our national dance competition. Dance: Make Your Move is open to anyone aged four to 18, no matter what their abilities.
  • From gala balls to comedy nights, there are all kinds of ways you can enjoy a night out and raise funds for people in crisis.

Post updated 27 November 2015