Harold Hulley

Harold Hulley

Harold Hulley

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ONE of the most successful professional dancing partnerships of the 1950s was that of Harold Hulley and his wife Doreen Edwards who gave dancing classes in Leeds and Wakefield, and earlier on in Halifax.

Mr Hulley, born in Mexborough, left school at 14 to work in a local pit. He has died aged 94. The son of a glass blower, Mr Hulley was the second youngest of 12 children, his bride and dancing partner an only child.

From his early teens, he and his brothers and sisters put on their smartest clothes for ballroom dancing several nights a week in the Empress Ballroom.

It was soon apparent that he had an exceptional talent; he began entering competitions and his prowess was noticed by the band leader Bert Clegg.

Mr Clegg said he should have lessons in Sheffield with Constance Grant, recognised as one of the very best dance teachers in the country.

Home from work, he had a bath in the kitchen, put on a suit and caught the train to Sheffield for his lessons, and every weekend he was at the Empress Ballroom, or further afield to compete in amateur competitions.

No smoking, no drinking, no gambling – dancing was his life.

He danced going upstairs, he danced coming downstairs, and if he thought no one was looking, he danced in the street.

With Miss Grant, he progressed through all the intermediate stages to the most advanced level.

It was clear to him, and everyone he danced with or competed against, that he was good enough to be a professional but this was wartime, and mining was a reserved occupation.

There was no escape. Or so it seemed until he was diagnosed with pneumonia. It meant he could never go down a pit again, and knowing no other sort of work, he became unemployed.

The rail fares to and from Sheffield and the cost of the dancing lessons were now beyond his means, but when he told Miss Grant he would have to give them up, she offered to take him on as an articled teacher in return for an undertaking that he would stay for three years.

He readily agreed, and although his wages were barely enough to cover his expenses, the tips he received provided him with a reasonable living.

Miss Doreen Edwards, a professional dancer who gave lessons in ballroom and tap in Hebden Bridge, was an occasional pupil of Miss Grant, and she also demonstrated steps and movements to less advanced pupils, often with Mr Hulley as her partner. In terms of height, they were an excellent match.

A professional relationship developed when she paid him to give demonstrations to her classes in Hebden Bridge from time to time, but the romance had to wait until they started to meet at competitions in Blackpool Tower and the Winter Gardens.

As it was said at the time, they “were walking out together”, and after they married, the partnership lasted more than 50 years.

When Mr Hulley’s contract with Miss Grant came to an end, he and his wife opened a dance school in Halifax, and later on they started one in Wakefield. They taught the entire range of steps and styles, and their success in competitions established them as the most versatile couple in the country.

When not teaching or competing or adjudicating, they were engaged to give exhibitions, their comprehensive repertoire including stage dancing, floor dancing, novelty dances and modern and ballroom.

But the Viennese Waltz remained their specialty, helping them become the Old Time British Professional champions for two years running.

A mark of their success was winning a Carl Allen award – in the world of dance, the equivalent of an Oscar.

They were appointed examiners by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, and made numerous appearances on television as competitors, demonstrators and adjudicators.

All this activity began to slow down with the advent of the 60s and a decline in the popularity of ballroom dancing, and with more time on their hands they were ready to accept the appointment as joint managers of Tiffany’s nightclub in Leeds. They did, however, run dance classes in the city, and they continued to run their classes in Wakefield.

Into advanced old age, Mr Hulley remained remarkably trim, was always immaculately turned out, and his luxuriant, naturally curly hair was something to be wondered at. But the death of his wife and dancing partner eight years ago had left him devastated.

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