Thursday, May 24, 2012

Those Places Thursday: 'Tripping the light fantastic' in the ballrooms of Dublin

Mary and Michael on the right with friends on their way to a night of dancing.
My mom Mary is holding a box of chocolate given to her by my dad Michael.
Mom recalled this photo as taken early in 1952, a couple of months before her 21st birthday.
She was 20 years old, and they were recently engaged.
When my mom and dad, Mary and Michael, were 'courting' they often went ballroom dancing with a large group of friends. Dad used to call it 'tripping the light fantastic', a phrase popular in the 1940s, which means graceful dancing to musical accompaniment, and in the case of my parents, dancing in an especially graceful manner. According to one of Mom's sisters, they were a stunning couple on the dance floor, moving beautifully and attracting more than their fair share of attention. Their usual haunt was the Olympia Ballroom in Dublin, but they also danced at the Hotel Metropole and the famed Gresham Hotel.

I used to daydream about Mom and Dad going dancing, and imagined her dress swirling as they waltzed around the dance floor, so journey back in time with me, to those evenings when Michael brought his girl Mary out to trip the light fantastic on the dance floors in the ballrooms of Dublin City.

Mary loved to get dressed up. It took her out of the everyday world of duty and discipline that she knew at home. Mary said Michael never looked so fine as he did in his evening clothes. Everything about him was beautifully pressed and finely presented, from the top of his mass of wavy blond hair to the tip of his perfectly polished shoes. The beautiful evening wraps and fur stoles Mary wore were sometimes borrowed from older relations. The little jewelled evening bags Mary carried were usually the result of months of saving the money she earned at various jobs.

When Michael arrived at her home to pick up his girl Mary, he usually brought with him a small bouquet of flowers, or a corsage Mary would wear at her waistline or décolletage, along with a beautiful assortment of chocolates in a box wrapped with a lovely ribbon. Before he was allowed to escort her out for an evening of dancing, Michael was required to come into the Ball home at 7 pm, to pray the rosary with Mary and her family, as it was their practice to do this every evening. Stern warnings about proper behaviour followed, given to them by Aunt Alice, and then they were off to enjoy themselves.

One of Mary's favourite events was a charity ball, a dinner/dance, at the Gresham Hotel. Everyone in their group of friends pitched in as much money as they could, and they hired a car to take them to the hotel. Mary said she felt like royalty as the car pulled up in front of the Gresham. The driver opened the car door and gently took her hand to help draw her out of the car. She giggled to herself over all of the people watching them, knowing full well that she, her beau Michael, and their friends had spent their last dime to pay for the tickets to that dance and to hire that car. She loved feeling as though, for just a few minutes, their group of friends was the centre of attention that night.

After my parents and brother emigrated to Canada, and I came along, there were fewer evening soirées. There was no ballroom in the city in which they settled, and their days of tripping the light fantastic were fewer and far between. Nevertheless, anytime Mom and Dad had the opportunity to go dancing, they looked forward to it with delight.  When they did go to dances, in the early evening while Mom was getting ready, Dad would sweep me up into his arms and dance me around the room happily proclaiming, "We're off tonight, we'll be tripping the light fantastic".

Mom used to say that Dad had 'a terrible habit' of tucking her up under his arm so that she looked
as though she was tipping sideways. Mom didn't much care for this photo, but I love it.
It is 1949, Dad is 20 years old and Mom is 18. Dad looks thrilled (and maybe a little nervous) to have her on his arm.
Mom made the evening gloves she is wearing.

Mom described this dress and wrap as having very fine lace trim
 and little pearl beadwork over the floral fabric on the bodice.
The photo is actually a cut-out made to look like a fashion doll.
I have loved this photograph of Mom ever since I was a young child.



  1. Oh, what a handsome couple. Yes, I remember the term "tripping the light fantastic". My parents were beautiful dancers too and I learnt to dance, when very tiny, standing on dad's insteps. Your mum's dresses are beautiful... and the long gloves :-) ...we never see those nowadays ... and I swear my mum had a pair of shoes just like those with the peep toes and platform soles. They were silver. Thanks for sharing this beautiful memory of your mum and dad, Jennifer. It's a delight.

    1. Hello Catherine,

      Thank you for your lovely comments. I very much appreciate receiving them. I feel privileged to have these photographs. I wish it were possible for me to travel back in time and know my mom and dad when they were this age, long before marriage and family responsibilities took over their lives. In these photographs, in particular, I love the expressions on their faces. They look so very happy.


  2. Wonderful photographs & a romantic story.I love the clothes. My parents met at a dance. They used to go square dancing in the 1940s. Wish I had photos of them heading out to a dance. Yours are precious.

    1. Hi Colleen,

      Thanks for your lovely comments. I feel the same way, and I'm sorry you don't have photos of your parents going out to a dance, but it's great that you know the story of how they met.


  3. What a lovely story...I can almost hear the music and see their (blue?) eyes twinkling at the fun. The wonderful memories of their courtship must have carried them through the years of family responsibilities until they could occasionally trip the light fantastic.

  4. Hi Pauleen,

    As always, thank you for your lovely comments. I agree with you that the memories must have carried them through. They both loved to dance. My mom's most fond wish had been to dance in the ballrooms of Vienna, Austria. They planned to go there, but ultimately the plan did not come to fruition because of my dad's illness, and his passing, but I remember my mom talking about the dream of dancing there.



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